Oak Park firefighters have made a tradition of their annual dinner with kids from Hephzibah. This year in particular, one resident of the children’s association realized just how serious their job is.
Jason, as he was referred to in a recent Hephzibah newsletter, is a 12-year-old boy who had been at the facility for three or four months, said Janet Sullivan, a child care supervisor there. Like many of the kids who come to the home, he had a history of abuse and neglect.
One day, Jason decided to pull the fire alarm, sending all the firefighters from the station at 100 N. Euclid Ave. to the home at 946 North Boulevard. Hephzibah staff explained to him that false alarms are potentially dangerous, and Jason wrote an apology letter. But within the next couple of months, he pulled the alarm two more times.
The staff figured out that Jason just didn’t know how to handle his emotions when he’d get upset.
“When things just got so emotionally overwhelming, that’s how he discharged his feelings,” Sullivan said.
The other kids really picked up on why Jason acted that way, she added, and his 9-year-old friend wrote another apology letter to the fire department.
Sullivan said the idea to visit the department came up, and the staff decided that if Jason got to know the firefighters, maybe he wouldn’t try to seek out their attention by causing such a panic.
So the kids paid the firefighters a visit in March. They got a tour of the station and living quarters, made a pizza dinner and talked about what to do if there really was a fire.
Firefighter Jeff Herzog said he wanted the kids to understand that the fire alarm is for emergencies only. Pulling the alarm when nothing’s happening could take the firefighters away from a real fire. Herzog also explained the importance of checking doors to see if they’re hot, and not hiding if there was a real fire.
He said the kids really enjoyed the shiny trucks and the lights and sirens.
Rob Sassetti, another childcare worker at Hephzibah, said Jason was one of the most interested kids during the trip. He recently moved to another facility, but Sassetti said the experience turned a negative situation into a positive one.