Mundelein Fire Department's new van takes fun approach to public education
Yes, Mundelein, that red van with a smiling, cartoon Dalmatian on the side is an actual fire department rig.
And even though it may not look as serious as a traditional fire truck or ambulance, the van has an important role. It may even save some lives.
Loaded with fire extinguishers, a thermal imaging camera, a fire hose and other gear, the van is designed to help teach kids and adults about fire prevention, fire suppression and other safety techniques.
It also promotes the department in a friendly, approachable way. That's why, for example, a decal with the digital address for the department's Facebook page appears on a rear door.
"This is just a fun way to advertise," said Lt. Steve D'Incognito, the department's public education coordinator,
The department acquired the van this spring. D'Incognito built a special collapsible rack system inside the vehicle to hold all the gear, so he or other firefighters won't have to load equipment onto traditional fire trucks every time they visit schools, businesses or public events for safety demonstrations.
"It's a self-sufficient vehicle," Fire Chief Ben Yoder said. "We're just happy as heck with this thing."
The van cost $25,000, and the custom-made shelves inside ran another $4,000, but the project came in significantly under budget, Yoder said.
The vehicle has been especially popular at local schools, Yoder said. The adhesive wrap on the side of the van, which features a Dalmatian in a firefighter's jacket holding a battery for a smoke alarm, is particularly eye-catching.
"The kids are excited (to see it)," Yoder said. "They know the Dalmatian. They know it's the fire dog."
In addition to firefighting equipment, the van has stacks of lightweight, plastic firefighter helmets for kids to play with, along with booklets about fire safety, shopping bags with a department logo and other promotional items.
But the van isn't just for kids. Firefighters can take it to local businesses to show employees how to properly use extinguishers if they spot flames at work.
It will appear at this summer's Mundelein Community Days festival, too.
Yoder showed off the van to interested municipal officials before Monday night's village board meeting.
Trustee Bill Rekus was impressed.
"I love the look of it," Rekus said. "It's targeted to kids, and they're going to get excited when it pulls up. And that means they're going to get excited about the information."