Editorial: Respect for the service, training of those who fight fires
Fighting fires is and always will be a dangerous job done by brave people.
Much is made of all the high-tech equipment that has been developed over the years and is credited with helping improve firefighter safety. There's little doubt those tools have saved the lives of countless first-responders. However, equipment alone isn't enough against intense heat, thick smoke and the deterioration of a building on fire.
It takes guts and skills honed by rigorous regular training to run into a burning structure, when the rest of us would instinctively run away.
The inherent dangers of the job and sharp firefighter skills were on full display recently in unincorporated McHenry County when a Cary Fire Protection District firefighter helping battle a blaze in a house on Hickory Nut Grove Lane fell through a hole in the floor and into a burning basement. The firefighter was looking for the door to the basement, where the fire began, when the floor gave way.
"He was in the fire and trapped for a few minutes," Lt. Michael D. Douglass told our Burt Constable.
We can only imagine how it must have looked like a scene out of the fictional television series "Chicago Fire" -- only with all the sounds, smells and heat that made it terrifyingly real-life to those in the house that night.
An immediate "Mayday" distress radio call was followed by the quick response from firefighters who doused their fallen comrade with water and kept him wet until crews were able to pull him up through the hole he had fallen through.
The injured firefighter was taken to Good Shepherd Hospital near Barrington, in fair condition -- and alive.
This story had a happy ending, but it's not always like that for the folks who fight fires for a job. The National Fire Protection Association says the number of firefighters who have died on duty since 1977 had averaged close to 150 deaths per year for many years. That number has been cut in half in the last five years, the group reports. Still, 69 firefighters across the nation died while on duty in 2016.
The day after the fire in unincorporated McHenry County, Palatine Fire Department officials honored volunteer firefighter George Palmer, who died in September at the age of 85 at his home in Florida. Palmer was on duty during a tragic event in suburban history some 44 years ago -- Feb. 23, 1973 -- when fire raged through the Ben Franklin store in Palatine. Three firefighters -- John Wilson, Warren "Auggie" Ahlgrim and Richard Freeman -- died when they ran out of air in the basement of the building.
Their names are emblazoned on the department's 50-year-old snorkel truck Palmer was working on the day of the fire. It is a memorial to their sacrifice and the dangers of the job. We're glad no such similar memorial will be needed in the Cary Fire Protection District, though the close call serves as a reminder of the respect we hold for all first-responders.