Washington Park, Ill. volunteer firefighter Dante Brooks had to fight a blaze at a vacant home by himself for 40 minutes before finally getting volunteer help from the town and surrounding communities, according to KSDK-TV. Flames were spreading to an occupied house next door. Police evacuated the family.
"It was my main priority," Brooks said. "I wasn't worried about the house burning. I was protecting the home and the family next door."
But how does a firefighter come to take on a fire by himself? Budget cuts, pure and simple. The town of Washington Park has had major financial problems, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. As of last summer, the town was in the red by $7 million. One of the strategies to deal with the issues was to lay off all the paid staff of the fire department other than an interim chief and to lay off two part-time workers and one contractor from the street department.
The firefighters made $10 an hour. At the same time, the town hired a $40,000 a year consultant to evaluate government operations and an urban planner for $25,000. "What are the people supposed to do if their houses catch on fire?" asked one resident at a meeting of the village board.
Washington Park's firefighting staff is all volunteer other than the one paid person. Fires are normally battled by crews, not only because it typically takes more than one person's work to control a fire, but for safety.
Talking to a KSDK reporter on camera, Brooks said that solo firefighting can be dangerous. "I had to get pulled out by the police officer because the fire kind of rolled on me."
When asked if the volunteer system was working for the town, another volunteer, Andre Henderson, said, "No, it's not."
According to the report, the town's mayor blamed a "communication breakdown between volunteers" is why it took so long for Brooks to receive help.
No one was injured, according to the News-Democrat, although the vacant home was a complete loss.
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