Rural fire departments face unique challenges

ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- Even Superman needs help sometimes and that's what area heroes were taught Tuesday.

Fire chiefs met to discuss equipping first responders with the best research, equipment and training. What they found was many departments have similar problems, but talking about their differences could make them stronger.

One significant issue is safety. You know them by their gear. they have big firetrucks, helmets, jackets and boots. But, at a big department, like on in Champaign, firefighters might not know how good they have it with all the equipment.

"Hardest thing for us as a rural fired department is, wow, many things."

Chief Eric Stalter, of Fisher, isn't alone. As a rural fire chief, he sees how his department, like many others, struggles.

"Staffing. I talk to my colleagues. They have issues getting people out to volunteer."

As the face of rural fire departments at the Fire Service Institute Forum, he helped bring up many tough conversations. Another is safety. In Illinois alone, 21 people died last month from fires.

"It's a challenge. Response time. We had a fatality in August as a result of a storm and some safety issues with electrical cords. Education is key."

Helping others is a firefighter's job, but local "supermen" have their own kryptonite.

"There are risks to being a firefighter and one of the risks is the carcinogenic effects of modern-day firefighting and the environments and particular matter that gets on firefighters."

These are behind-the-scenes battles the rest of us don't see. It's their mental health, getting people to volunteer and going on calls for opioids. Issues fire chiefs from around the state can relate to.

For rural departments like Stalter, it's a step in the right direction.

"This new culture that we're trying to implement for safety first, for ourselves, and for the people we serve and for our families as well."

During the conversation about safety, a rural department chief talked about taking all the equipment off. That way, they're not bringing carcinogens into the building.

One chief says he saw someone who had an opioid needle in his boot and didn't realize it. But, not all departments have the money or extra equipment to have separate sets.

That's one problem the state fire marshal and Illinois Fire Service can use to further research.


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