Fire Department History Is Garfield Ridge Topic
The Garfield Ridge Civic League meeting on Monday included a presentation by Mike Kovac, a retired Chicago Fire Department official, about the history of the fire department both citywide and locally.
Kovac, who now lives in Archer Heights, grew up in Garfield Ridge and joined the Chicago Fire Department in 1965. He rose through the ranks, working at various engine companies, to eventually become the coordinator of engineer training and driver training before retiring in 1998.
He gave his audience of about 20 gathered in the Kennedy High School library a quick history of the Chicago Fire Department, which was formed in 1835 as an all-volunteer force. The first paid position, engineer, wasn’t added until 1858, when the department had its first steam-powered pumper, called Long John.
ÒEven back then, engineers were important,” he said, noting that working with steam meant the engineer was in charge of a boiler system similar to those in trains at the time, or in buildings. He explained that the engineer’s primary role remains determining the exact water pressure needed for each fire, and the correct sizes of hoses and valves needed.
ÒIf they get it wrong, the firefighters could be fighting the hoses more than the fire, and lives depend on their skills,” he said.
He also went into some detail about the progression of fire houses in Garfield Ridge, Clearing and Archer Heights, as the neighborhoods grew in population over the years. He explained that prior to 1932, the closest firehouse was at Archer and Sacramento, in Brighton Park. But that year, the original firehouse in the area was at 64th and Central.
Then, when Midway Airport began to expand, a station was opened on the airport property.
ÒI remember when Austin Avenue was a dirt path,” said Kovac, who grew up at 52nd and Massasoit, and attended Mark Twain Elementary School and Kelly High School.
ÒBut even then, railroad crossings were a problem,” he said, noting that fire trucks traveling to the western sections of the neighborhood could be stopped by trains.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the firehouse at 56th and Narragansett, beside Kennedy High School, was opened, and 1967 when the one at 46th and Komensky opened.
He passed around several vintage photos, including one of the Cadillac ambulances that were in use in those years. They looked more like station wagons than modern ambulances, which now have advanced life-support equipment.
ÒThey probably gave a smoother ride than what we have now,” joked Marie Zilka.
In those years, he pointed out, ambulances did not pick up people at homes without a note from a doctor.
ÒThere are so many more things the Fire Department does now. We don’t just fight fires anymore,” he said. ÒWhen I started in Bronzeville, we expected to be called out to a fire every day. But that is not the case anymore.”
He explained that while fire calls are less frequent, ambulance calls keep the 98 firehouses in the city busy.
There are now 4,314 firefighting personnel in the department, and 619 paramedics, he said, explaining that many firefighters and paramedics are now cross-trained.
ÒThere are three basic 911 calls: police, ambulance and fire. When you call, say immediately what your call is about,” he advised his audience. ÒIf it is a fire call, you will be transferred to a fire dispatcher.”
He explained that Òthey have a protocol.”
He explained that several trucks will be sent to schools or other buildings where lives are at risk, but only one is sent initially to garage or car fires.
ÒIf it is a fire in your house, get out first, and don’t go back in,” he said. He and a couple of audience members recalled instances in which people escaped fires but then went back for a pet or belongings, and died. He said smoke inhalation is the most common cause of death in a fire.
ÒThe scope of the Fire Department has really expanded,” Kovac said. ÒThe role of the engine company has now become an integral part of EMS (emergency medical service).”
Hazmat, or hazardous material units, are also a big part of the fire department now, in the post-9/11 era in which the department must be able to respond to terrorism and a wide range of disaster possibilities.
Kovac said that city and suburban fire departments now work more closely together than they ever did, which benefits residents of both areas. Radios have been modified so the departments can communicate with each other, and respond to emergencies in both jurisdictions. For this reason, being close to communities such as Bedford Park, with its own hazmat teams and emergency services, benefits residents of Clearing and Garfield Ridge, he said.
His discussion also included stressing the importance of having working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as fire extinguishers, in every home. He advised against having combination detectors, for both smoke and carbon monoxide gas.
ÒI think this was the best talk we have had,” said Bill Kuda, as he left the meeting.
High School Football: Rice tops Marist as both powers eye playoffs
By Jeff Vorva Correspondent The buzz and postgame emotions from Brother Rice’s 40-21 victory over Marist on Friday was abbreviated. Because the heralded game was played on the final regular season weekend of the year, these area and state powers and bitter rivals quickly turned their attention to the playoff pairings announcements, which came less…
Last home game a winner for Red Stars
By Alison Moran What a way to end a season at home. It was a perfect night for a cool game of soccer, with temperatures in the upper 50s and no rain dampening the field. In front of 4,488 of the Red Stars’ faithful at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Chicago Red Stars defeated KC…
Marie Vachata gets a fond farewell from Lyons
By Steve Metsch Pat Wideman will never forget the first time she met Marie Vachata. “When I first moved to Lyons 50 years ago, she was the very first neighbor who welcomed me to Lyons,” Wideman said while sitting on a bench outside the village hall. Vachata resided two doors down on 46th Street when…
Bridgeview rents out former golf dome site for parking
By Steve Metsch The village of Bridgeview stands to make nearly $5 million by renting out space to park trucks where the golf dome formerly stood. The village will be paid $45,000 per month in an agreement that runs through September 2030. That comes to $540,000 per year and $4.86 million over the nine-year contract.…
Summit’s Rev. Clemons named to township’s Mental Health Commission
By Steve Metsch The Township of Lyons has a new member on its Mental Health Commission. The Rev. Jeffrey Clemons, of Antioch Baptist Church, 7513 W. 64th St., Summit, is joining the commission. His appointment won unanimous approval from the township board at its meeting on Oct. 12. He is the first African-American on the…
Bedford Park’s Wintrust Sports Complex is a ‘one-stop’ monster
By Jeff Vorva The Wintrust Sports Complex has not even held its grand opening yet in Bedford Park, but it’s already bringing ESPN to town in July. The facility’s general manager, Wade Walsh, said the American Cornhole League will host its Final Chase at the new site and ESPN will be broadcasting the finals on…
Rev. Edward Stockus dies, pastor emeritus at St. Hugh Parish, served Oak Lawn parishes
Rev. Edward S. Stockus, pastor emeritus of St. Hugh Parish in Lyons, passed away Saturday, Oct. 9. He was 90 years old. Fr. Stockus was born on Jan. 21, 1931, in Chicago. He attended St. Rita High School, the University of Illinois, University of Dayton, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Loyola University and pursued…
Argo celebrates Homecoming, names West Gym for Helen Mallis
By Carol McGowan It was a chilly morning last Saturday, but the spirit at Argo Community High School was as warm as ever for its homecoming parade and dedication of West Gym. The parade kicked off from Summit Park at 9 a.m., with over two dozen participants. Marchers reached the school on 63rd street just…
High School Football: Oak Lawn routs Argo to keep playoff hopes alive
By Jason Maholy Sports Editor Through one half, a pivotal Week 8 matchup between Oak Lawn and Argo had the appearance of one that might be tight until the very end. The Spartans had a different idea, opening up a commanding lead by the end of three quarters and putting the game away with a…
Lyons Township Assessor Barb Weyrick to retire after 35 years
By Carol McGowan After decades of public service, Lyons Township Assessor Barbara M. Weyrick will retire at the end of the month. Weyrick has had quite a career and climb since starting as an office manager for the Township of Lyons in 1984. She ran for assessor in 1985 and lost, then came back in…
CAPITOL RECAP: New congressional map draft unveiled
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – Democratic leaders in the General Assembly released a second draft of proposed congressional district maps over the weekend as they prepare to head into the final three days of their fall veto session. Like the first set of maps that were released Oct. 15, the latest draft would create…
Pritzker urges child vaccination as changes to Health Care Right of Conscience Act emerge
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – An amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that allows an employer to fire a worker for noncompliance with COVID-19 vaccine or test requirements surfaced Monday ahead of the final three scheduled days of legislative action this year. That bill language was introduced in…
Democrats unveil 2nd draft of congressional maps
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Democratic leaders in the General Assembly released a second draft of proposed congressional district maps over the weekend as they prepare to head into the final three days of their fall veto session. Like the first set of maps that were released Oct. 15, the latest…
CAPITOL RECAP: Major action expected in veto session’s second week
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – The legislative action was light during the General Assembly’s first week of fall session, and lawmakers in both chambers left town a day early after leadership canceled the Thursday session. That means bigger items, such as a vote on congressional maps and potential changes to the Health Care Right…
Pritzker mandates vaccine for day care professionals
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker announced an executive order Friday that will add day care personnel to the list of professions that must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. The governor’s office said it expects the order to affect 55,000 individuals in the state,…
Illinois Supreme Court strikes down Cook County tax on guns
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Cook County tax on gun purchases is unconstitutional, but it left the door open for a more tailored tax that specifically goes toward mitigating gun violence and its effects. The Cook County gun tax, which took effect in…
Public speaks out on proposed congressional maps
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Members of the public got their first chance to speak directly to state lawmakers Wednesday about a proposed set of new congressional district maps, and most of those who did were critical of the plan. Democrats in the General Assembly released a proposed new map Friday…
Heavy workload expected next week as lawmakers cancel Thursday session
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The legislative action was light during the General Assembly’s first week of fall session, and lawmakers in both chambers left town a day early after leadership canceled the Thursday session. That means bigger items, such as a vote on congressional maps and potential changes to the…
Federal court throws out June legislative maps, declines to send issue to bipartisan commission
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – A three-judge federal court panel in Chicago ruled Tuesday that the legislative redistricting plan that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June – before official 2020 U.S. Census numbers were available – was unconstitutional because the population variances among districts violated the “one-person, one-vote” doctrine.…
State ramping up vaccine booster campaign
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday urged eligible Illinoisans to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot and called on skilled nursing facilities to make booster shots available to patients and staff by Thanksgiving. Currently anyone who received the Pfizer vaccine and is over 65 years of age…