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New Citizens Fire Academy launches next month

Firefighter/paramedics Chuck Kriens left Eric Podowski use auextricatiequipment during fire drill. | LindBlaser/Sun-Times Media

Firefighter/paramedics Chuck Kriens, left, and Eric Podowski use auto extrication equipment during a fire drill. | Linda Blaser/Sun-Times Media

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Lake Forest Citizens Fire Academy

Who: Open to residents or individuals who work in Lake Forest

Why: To gain a better understanding and awareness of the role of the fire department

When: 7-9:30 p.m., Thursdays, Feb. 6-March 13

Where: Public Safety Building, 255 W. Deerpath, Lake Forest

To enroll: Contact Deputy Chief Chris Garrison at 847-810-3866 or

Topics to be covered:

• Tour and department history

• EMS demonstration

• Obstacle course

• Apparatus

• Incident command

• Mutual aid

• Engine operations

• Auto extrication

• Ladder truck operations

• Maintenance

• Thermal-imaging camera

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Updated: March 18, 2014 3:37AM

Maybe it’s the chance to ride in a real fire truck, don the full turnout gear or the popularity of the TV series “Chicago Fire.”

Whatever the reason, Lake Forest’s first Citizens Fire Academy, set to start Thursday, Feb. 6, is filling up fast.

“We’ve still got a few spots left,” Deputy Fire Chief Chris Garrison said, “but don’t wait too long.”

Taking a leaf out of the city’s police department playbook, the fire crew will open its doors — and its books — to a dozen or so residents and individuals who work in the city to let them step into a firefighter’s shoes from 7 to 9:30 p.m. every Thursday night for 10 weeks at the Public Safety Building at 255 W. Deerpath in Lake Forest.

The goal of the academy, which will run twice a year, is to educate the public about what fire personnel do on a daily basis.

While the department fields 3,300 calls every year — an average nine a day — few residents are conversant in the skills and duties offered by its employees.

“If residents need us, they call,” Fire Chief Jeff Howell said. “We come, we take care of the situation. But the truth of it is, I don’t think residents truly know what the fire department does and is capable of doing. This is an opportunity for us to tell our story.”

With a tour of the station and a primer on the department’s history — Lake Forest hired its first firefighter in 1898, making it one of the oldest fire departments in the state — as well as pulling a hose and suiting up to crawl through a non-toxic smoke-filled obstacle course, students will get a complete overview of the fire operation, officials said.

“We’ll show them the rigs, the actual trucks, and the difference between a tower ladder and an engine, a tower ladder and a squad,” Garrison said.

Students will also get an up-close look at the department’s four ambulances and learn how emergency medical services, or EMS, functions. More than half the annual calls to the fire department are for EMS.

“A lot of people still think when an ambulance comes it’s from the hospital,” Garrison said. “They don’t realize firefighters are paramedics, too.”

Weekly lessons also will cover auto extrication, ladder usage, spraying a hose, how the incident chain of command system works and an overview of the department’s budget, among other topics.

“We want to paint the picture of what we do,” Garrison said.

While the course will not prepare anyone to be a firefighter, it will serve as a departmental “open book” for residents, Howell said.

“This is everything we do; these are your tax dollars at work,” Howell said.

Those interested in participating in the upcoming session or a future session should contact Garrison at 847-810-3866 or

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