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Grant to help Sycamore fire fight brush fires, blazes in rural areas

SYCAMORE – Sycamore fire officials have snagged a $3,900 grant to help fund their latest effort to beef up the department’s ability to respond to rural emergencies.

Funds from the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant program will cover more than half of the $7,750 the Sycamore Fire Department plans to spend on a thermal imaging camera and hand tools for fighting brush fires, Sycamore Fire Chief Pete Polarek said. The fire department has applied for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant since 2014 to improve its ability to respond to fires and emergencies in the rural areas surrounding Sycamore, Polarek said.

“This is been a grant we pursued for many years, and we did it again this year,” Polarek said. “We didn’t have a lot of hope; It’s like playing the lottery.”

Polarek said the thermal imaging camera will help crews spot brush fires and the hand tools – hoes, axes, rakes, nozzles and backpack water pumps – will help put them out in areas where there are no fire hydrants. He said those areas are particularly fire prone in the spring and fall seasons.

Sycamore saw twice as many brush fires in 2018 as in 2017, according to the Sycamore Fire Department’s Fiscal Year 2018 report.

“There is a window before planting in spring and in the fall whenever everything dries out,” Polarek said. “There are dry fuels on the ground, whether that be corn stubble or dried grasses.”

Structure fires in rural areas create unique challenges as well, due to the distance between residences, according to the National Fire Protection Agency. Because of that, fire death rates in rural areas are very high.

The Sycamore Fire Department does not track the number of structure fires that occur in the rural area it serves – which includes about 2,500 people, the department estimates – but Assistant Fire Chief Todd Turner has witnessed those unique challenges firsthand.

Sycamore firefighters had their hands full battling a June 1 fire at a home in rural Sycamore that caused $150,000 in damage, Turner told the Sycamore City Council on June 3. The department’s tanker trucks ran dry. The department was assisted by others from DeKalb, St. Charles, Huntley, Elburn, Burlington, Genoa, Cortland, Kirkland, Monroe Center, Somonauk, Shabbona, Maple Park, Kaneville, Marengo, Malta and Waterman in that blaze.

“Unfortunately, we ended up running out of water, but we were able to knock down the main body of the fire,” Turner said at the City Council meeting June 3.

Turner said although the fire was large enough to require assistance no matter how much water the department had, it did address the need for higher capacity tanks.

City Council has since given the OK for the fire department to work with one of two purchasing cooperatives to purchase a fire truck with a water capacity of 3,000 gallons for an estimated $550,000. It will replace the 30-year-old Engine 4, with a capacity of 2,000 gallons.

The Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant is not the only recent assistance the fire department has received to help with rural operations. The department will use a $10,000 grant from the Bayer Fund to purchase tools to rescue workers trapped in farm and industrial equipment.

The grant will afford fire crews hand and power tools, such as cutting torches, to safely disengage farm workers from equipment.

“Whenever possible, whether it’s grant funded or otherwise, we try to enhance our capability to respond,” Polarek said.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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