Before Kids Ground at Rochelle’s Cooper Park saw hammers, crowbars and other tools begin hammering the facility into a memory this past Saturday, the Rochelle Fire Department, in conjunction with the Fire Science Program, working with the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, put youthful volunteers through an obstacle course through the structure in full gear.
Ben Johnson, full time Rochelle fire fighter and paramedic, said it’s difficult to replicate where they normally train; tight spots, uneven terrain, entanglement hazards.
“This is a real opportunity for us because we’re material intensive, and this experience is a huge plus. Added to that is the fact that this helps lighten the load for the park district in terms of man hours required to bring this down in preparation for the new KidsGround later this summer,” Johnson explained. “A lot of this material we’re going to try and salvage, take out on trailers, and we’re going to use it to build props over at the Cortland Fire Department. Things that we can’t use are all going to the dumpster.”
“A lot of this material we’re going to try and salvage, take out on trailers, and we’re going to use it to build props over at the Cortland Fire Department. Things that we can’t use are all going to the dumpster.”
Johnson says the fire training program the young men and women are involved in is far reaching, extending to five communities, continuing that several of the work crew on site were from out of town. Some of those areas are Rochelle and include Genoa-Kingston, DeKalb, Sycamore and Kirkland. This is all through KEC.
“There are about 15 kids in the program and nine of them are here today,” he stated, noting that the students not only achieve high school credits for their work, but that experience can also translate to college credit, too.
Earlier in the day the group put on full gear and headed through the child-sized mazes, which Johnson admits were a challenge. Many of the students had played on the equipment when they were younger but equipped with masks and gear and considering personal size growth, it wasn’t easy to make it. Despite those challenges, he said the kids had a great time working their way through.
“The goal was to make it difficult for them so that in a day-to-day fire situation they’re much more comfortable doing it,” he added.
Johnson has been teaching these skills through the program since last summer, one or two days a week. There are approximately 11 teachers from Rockford, DeKalb, Cortland, Elgin and Steward. This helps with sustainability as it has become an issue in getting volunteer fire fighters.
“When these kids come out of high school, they’re certified with basic fire operations, they’re 18 years old, have their diploma, and they’re ready to go to work,” Johnson said. He said when fire fighters are mid-career in another field, it’s difficult transition especially if they have a family and are given a choice between pulling overtime on their regular job or hanging out at the fire house. And the students are in a scholastic mindset, so they’re adaptable to the classroom situation.
As for the KidsGround demolition, Johnson says it could take a four-man crew up to three days to get everything cleared away, and workers are expected to finish up what Saturday’s group didn’t get done.
“We’re super happy to get this opportunity; we worked on houses last summer that were to be demolished, and now we’re really excited that the Rochelle Park District offered us this site to work on and help take down in conjunction with the students’ training,” Johnson said. “All good things come to an end and it’s time to replace it; it’s bittersweet because I was 5 when it was built, and my dad and mom came over here and pounded a few nails. What’s great is that some of this stuff can be re-purposed and used for another few years in the fire education process. I’ve seen the plans for the new facility online and it really looks neat.”