'I didn't want the chickens to die': Addison firefighters, repair shop workers save thousands of hens
Andrew Loucks, a service technician with Super Truck Service in Addison, did not start his day on Tuesday knowing that he would need to help rescue about 14,000 hens.
But that's what happened when he responded to a service call before 9 a.m. for a semi tractor-trailer that lost a passenger-side trailer wheel on I-90 near Randall Road in Elgin. The open-air trailer was transporting caged hens between farms in Indiana to Wisconsin.
Often when a semi-truck breaks down along an interstate, drivers and mechanics will keep it in place and do repairs on the spot. But it was not possible in this case for a number of reasons.
The truck was an older model, and replacement parts could not be immediately found. And due to the temperatures climbing into the 90s, some of the chickens started to perish.
"They were stuck along a highway for six hours in the heat, and we did everything we could to move it as fast as possible," said Loucks, who had difficulty towing the hobbled semi back to the repair shop in Addison.
Loucks said typically such a truck transporting live chickens would be fine as long as it was moving to circulate enough air to keep the hens cool.
"The instant I pulled up to the shop, the first thing I did was to start spraying the trailer down with a garden hose," Loucks said. "But it was not nearly enough water."
Luckily for Loucks, his efforts caught the attention of an Addison Fire Protection District paramedic who was driving by around 1:30 p.m. A fire engine crew was dispatched to assist with the animal crisis.
"We connected to hydrant water and pumped it through our vehicle at very, very low pressures -- more like a mist," Addison Fire Battalion Chief Chris Mansfield said.
"I didn't want the chickens to die," Loucks said. "That was my only concern."
Mansfield estimated that between 500 to 1,000 hens had perished. Loucks and other technicians then removed the surviving hens and placed them in the shade on the grounds and in the maintenance bay next to two electric fans.
Loucks said he and his two dogs stayed at Super Truck Service to watch over the hens until around midnight. That's when a replacement truck from Wisconsin finally arrived to finish transporting the hens.
The broken-down truck is still in Addison because a replacement part could not be found locally. Loucks said a replacement hub is being is being shipped from Atlanta.
"I just feel bad about the whole situation and I feel bad for the chickens," said Loucks, adding that the repair shop on Wednesday morning was filled with feathers and chicken waste. "But I am very appreciative of the fire department that came out to help."