As a close observer of the excellent cost-effective service provided by the Oak Park Fire Department, both in terms of EMS and fire control, I was shocked to read the criticism by Bob Stigger, [First responders, second thoughts, Viewpoints, July 18]. Any Oak Pak resident who has had a medical emergency or a house fire can attest to the incredible service our firefighter paramedics provide.

In order for firefighters to be available for their life-saving work, they are on duty at Oak Park’s three firehouses for 24-hour shifts, during which they eat and sleep at the house waiting for the next alarm. Firefighters buy their own food and cook and eat family style with each shift having its own perishable and non-perishable provisions stored separately. Most fire departments, including Oak Park, make provision for food purchases for use during the shift on company time. In order to ensure that any piece of fire apparatus is fully available for service, the entire crew must travel together with the apparatus if even one firefighter leaves the firehouse, whether it be a pumper, a quint, an ambulance, a fire-scene coordination vehicle, a hazmat vehicle or a single operator vehicle.

While that quint Unit 631 crew is shopping at the nearest grocery (likely Pete’s) if they get an alarm over their radio for a fire or an ambulance call, all those groceries get left behind and those firefighters go forward to save lives, fight a fire, or offer medical treatment for an Oak Park citizen, or if it is an automatic aid call, for a citizen in Cicero, Berwyn, Forest Park, River Forest or Elmwood Park. Not quite the same as “personal shopping on company time,” driving the fire truck to the grocery store for convenience.

The Oak Park Fire Department has fewer firefighters and less apparatus doing more work than 20 years ago, yet our fire department frequently saves the primary stucco and wood structures involved in fires and prevents neighboring structures from damage. Many of these structures, in fact, are fully rehab-able after fires. Rarely do you hear of fatalities with fires in Oak Park — our firefighters are that good with search and rescue. Our paramedics are extremely capable and have literally saved many heart attack and respiratory arrest patients. Why? Quick response, skilled training.

I have in both my personal and professional life seen the skill of our firefighters/paramedics. Just last spring, my neighbor two houses south, had a fully involved house fire that Oak Park FD sequestered to that house and protected the houses 50 feet to each side and across the alley from any damage. The house was structurally saved by the fire department and my neighbor rescued without injury.

This kind of performance comes from a well-structured system that works 24/7/365 and that even includes the fire apparatus from the fire house and its full crew always traveling together, immediately ready to spring into action, even when they are buying the groceries for that evening’s supper.

Frank Vozak is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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