January 11, 2009

Speaking From The Heart

The opening of a new firehouse for Engine Company 102 at Clark and Jarvis was a grand moment for the dedicated men and women who will serve there. Like the police, they are on the front lines everyday working to protect our community.

Mayor Daley, with solid recognition of the life threatening work firefighters do, gave the keynote address to hundreds of community residents and public officials gathered for Saturday's ribbon-cutting at the shiny new facility. The ceremony was truly a wonderful celebration of the fire department’s commitment to its mission. I took my family, and our kids really enjoyed the donuts and the firehouse tour.

Later, Chicago Fire Commissioner John W. Brooks rose to make his own welcoming speech. He said he felt a need to make a personal comment first, before starting his official remarks. Commissioner Brooks then recalled a particularly tragic and sad moment in Rogers Park's history. It was Sunday, September 3, 2006 when five Ramirez family children and a sixth child died in a fire in their apartment at 7706 N. Marshfield.

Many of us immediately remembered that Labor Day weekend. It was national news for days, and we united as a community to raise funds and give support to the devastated families.

Commissioner Brooks said he hoped that this new firehouse would at least serve as a memorial to the children who lost their lives in that blaze.

I spoke with Commissioner Brooks after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He said the fire, the deaths, and especially the circumstances that led to this preventable tragedy are still fresh in his memory. For about six months before the fire the Ramirez had family lived in their apartment with no electricity. It had been turned off because of unpaid bills. At night, the family used candles for light. What was worse, the fire department also reported, was that there were no working fire alarms in the apartment.

Commissioner Brooks told me that initially he hesitated to raise memories of such sadness at the ribbon-cutting event. The commissioner understood that some might consider his remarks to be politically incorrect. (Recall: after the fire the city’s news media was filled with reports on the apartment building’s owner Jay Johnson, with details of his hefty political donations to our local alderman, and with allegations of Johnson’s negligence in maintaining the fire alarms.)

Commissioner Brooks said he felt it was important to never forget what happened in our community and also to point out the need for working fire alarms and other fire safety measures in every home.

I congratulated him. Fire Commissioner Brooks “spoke truth to power” in his own way, in a message heard by our mayor, our alderman, and our neighbors.

By Michael J. Harrington


marcum said...

What about the fire house and clark and greenleaf? Will this be closed or remain open??

mcl said...

It will be closed. The Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society has indicated they might be interested in acquiring the property for their Society home.