Meet "Chicago's Twins"

Don't get excited, baseball fans, the Minnesota Twins have not moved to Chicago! However, the Chicago Fire Department Hazardous Incident Team has a set of twins of its own in the form of twin hazardous materials response units. Built by American...


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Don't get excited, baseball fans, the Minnesota Twins have not moved to Chicago! However, the Chicago Fire Department Hazardous Incident Team has a set of twins of its own in the form of twin hazardous materials response units.

Built by American LaFrance, units 5-1-1 and 5-1-2 were placed into service in January 2004. Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Operations Eugene Ryan, a former Hazardous Incident Team coordinator for the fire department, has more than 18 years of experience in hazmat response and he felt for a long time that the city needed a second hazmat unit. He fought hard along with Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter and Chief of Special Operations Mike Fox to make the second unit a reality.

The Chicago Fire Department is led by Commissioner Cortez, a 29-year CFD veteran. The department has 5,000 uniformed personnel and is the second-largest fire department in the United States. Fire department personnel in Chicago respond to over 500,000 calls per year for emergency assistance in a coverage area of 228 square miles, serving a population of 2,869,127.

Chicago's first fire company was formed in 1832 and called the "Washington Volunteers." In 1835, the first fire bucket brigade was formed and called the "Fire Guards Bucket Company." Also formed in 1835 was "Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company No. 1." Hirman Hugunin was the first chief of the Chicago Fire Department, appointed in 1835. On Aug. 2, 1858, Chicago formed a paid fire department by placing Engine Company 3 in service at 225 South Michigan St.

Today, Chicago has in service 99 engine companies, 60 truck companies, four squads, 59 advanced life support (ALS) and 12 basic life support (BLS) medic units, 11 crash rescue units between O'Hare International and Midway airports, a collapse unit, two chemical units with 100 gallons of foam and 500 pounds of dry chemical, one fire boat, three helicopters, two hazardous materials companies, three light wagons, a mass-decontamination trailer at O'Hare and "Big Mo." a large-volume water-supply unit. Helicopters are used for water rescue and dispatched on all still and box alarms for high-rise buildings. Helicopters are used as "eyes" of the incident commander outside of building fires and watching for fire spread.

Chicago uses a box alarm system for dispatching emergency calls that has been adopted throughout Illinois and some adjoining states for mutual aid response. Outside the city, the system is known as the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS). An organization of hundreds of fire departments in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin, MABAS provides an orderly move up of equipment to fires, accidents or other incidents. Equipment is moved around according to predetermined lists, called "box cards." Each card covers specific types of incidents in specific areas. Small towns may have a single fire box card, while larger cities may have dozens.

Chicago's response system is divided into several response phases. The primary response to an incident is the "still alarm," which results in the dispatch of two engines, one truck and one battalion chief. Next is a "working still alarm, a confirmed working structure fire that results in the dispatch of an additional squad and command van. A first-alarm assignment is referred to as a "still and box alarm" and four engines, two trucks, one tower ladder, three battalion chiefs, one deputy district chief, one squad, one command van and one ambulance are dispatched. Extra alarms are added in the following order until five alarms are reached: 2-11, 3-11, 4-11 and 5-11. All alarms after that are listed as special alarms, so the highest level of a fire in Chicago is the 5-11 plus various special alarms.

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