Hospital’s last mission: Training firefighters
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2012 8:14PM
Elgin firefighter Joe Galli operates a ladder truck Monday during high rise firefighter training at the Sherman Health’s Center Street Campus. June 25, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:18AM
ELGIN — The heart of Sherman Hospital’s old Center Street building embarked on its last lifesaving mission Monday — a week of firefighter training that will end three days before the crews with the wrecking balls arrive.
“On Friday we get out of here. On Monday the demolition crews arrive,” said Fire Capt. Robert Cagann, who is supervising a week of “live fire” drills showing firefighters from all over the Elgin area how to confront flames in a high-rise building.
Cycling through the drills in four groups per day of 14 to 21 people each, 12 fire departments will send a total of 300 to 400 members through the training by the time it’s all over — at least, if Mother Nature cooperates.
With outside temperatures expected to hit 95 to 100 by midweek, the afternoon drills may have to be canceled, Cagann says, lest they cause overheated firefighters to collapse.
“We’ve been doing other kinds of training in the building for the past year” since Sherman moved most of its more health-oriented lifesaving out to its new hospital on Randall Road, Cagann said. “But we waited until the very end to do live-fire exercises, because that sends heat and soot throughout the building and causes quite a bit of damage.”
Cagann said Elgin Fire Department defines “high rise” as any building four or more stories tall, because structures that high are hard to reach with its ladder trucks.
As he spoke Monday afternoon, firefighters from Elgin, South Elgin, Carpentersville and Hoffman Estates were inside patient rooms on the fourth and fifth floors of what used to be the hospital’s pediatric wing. To simulate the heat and smoke of a genuine fire, instructors had filled 55-gallon drums with straw, set wooden pallets on top of them and set them ablaze. Firefighters then had to penetrate the smoky hallways, using heat-detection devices to find the fires and locating simulated human victims.
“We’ve got a 1-inch (hose) on the second fire. We have a total of two victims from the preliminary search,” a voice from inside said through Cagann’s radio as he stood behind an Elgin pumper parked along Spring Street.
Across the street was the old emergency room parking ramp that had seen so many ambulances from these same fire departments deposit heart attack patients, accident victims and others through the decades.
Overhead and just to the left, gray smoke wafted through windows on the top two floors. A hose had been lifted by rope up to one window on the fourth floor, where it entered a “Y” that sent half its flow farther inside, the other half through a second hose up to a window on the top floor.
With such high rises as the Elgin Tower Building, the Professional Building, the new downtown condos and the older apartment buildings along South State Street, Elgin has always had to consider how to fight fire at heights that ladders can’t reach, Cagann said.
“But last year, we started to revamp our procedures to fight these. This provides a way to test the new tactics and see if they really work” in semi-lifelike conditions.
Monday alone saw visits by firefighters from the Elgin, South Elgin, West Dundee, Pingree Grove, Rutland-Dundee Townships, Bartlett, Streamwood and Algonquin fire districts and fire departments.
“For many of our area firefighters, this type of training is a once-in-lifetime opportunity,” said Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy. “We are fortunate to have Sherman Health’s partnership to use the former hospital building for our community’s benefit.”