Thursday, October 13, 2011

Profile: OFPD Engineer Matt Burke

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Matt Burke, 43, never realized that he was a part of a family of firefighters when he was younger. But when he turned 18, something inside of him pushed him to want to make firefighting as he career choice.

Burke studied at Moraine Valley Community College when he became a paid-on-call firefighter.

“When I was hired, my mother was so proud and she started to tell me about all of the relatives and cousins in our family who were firefighters, too,” Burke recalled.

“I kind of knew that but it really didn’t hit me until I actually put on the uniform how important the decision was that I had made in my life.”

Burke said he doesn’t regret the choice at all.

“Being a firefighter looked like an exciting career. I wanted to help people. It was always inside me and I really enjoy the challenge,” Burke said.

Burke left the North Palos Fire District after two years and joined the Palos Fire District where he spent 10 years in uniform.  While working part-time at Palos, he started testing for full-time firefighter/paramedic positions.  After many tests, he was hired by Chicago Ridge Fire Department.  Less than two years later, he received a call from the Orland Fire Protection District that he was part of the next hiring list.  He then became a full-time employee with them.  During the first year, he also joined the Evergreen Fire Department as a part-time firefighter/paramedic.

“I did most of my major training and received some of my certifications and education at the Palos Fire District.  I completed the rest of my certifications at Orland Fire District,” Burke said, noting it is not easy to become a firefighter.

“It really is about training and education. I tested at all of the fire departments that I worked at and received a lot of hands-on training. It’s very competitive. We’re constantly training. I just came back from a training session today on dealing with cardiac issues.”

Firefighters are tested for mental aptitude, physical agility and psychological stamina.  And after completing this testing he was hired in May of 1994 by the Orland Fire Protection District.

Most firefighters are cross trained as paramedics. It’s common in the suburbs and it’s especially true here in the Orland Fire Protection District.  I trained to be a paramedic while at Palos Fire District and graduated in June of 1990.

As a firefighter, Burke says he faces many challenges in the day-to-day routine of fighting fires, responding to trauma calls and all kinds of emergencies.

Even when he is off-duty, Burke says, he is prepared for anything.

“Last May, my wife and I were coming home from a vacation on Southwest Airlines. We were about an hour in to the return trip when the flight attendants announced on the intercom on the plane asking for anyone with medical training,” Burke recalled.

“They asked if anyone was a doctor or had medical training to put their call light on. I put mine on and then got up from my seat and walked toward the part of the plane where the flight attendants were gathered around the passenger.”

Apparently, a woman who worked at the Aurora Fire Department had fainted. Her pulse was barely noticeable, Burke remembered.

“She was sweating profusely and she was white as a sheet. We didn’t know what happened,” Burke said. “She looked in trouble.”

Burke said his paramedic training immediately kicked in. The flight attendants got a doctor on the airplane headset and Burke described who he was and his training. He advised that the passenger needed an IV and the doctor agreed.

“We picked her up and laid her across three seats with her feet elevated to get her blood circulating through her body,” Burke said. “I then started the IV. You could barely feel her pulse. We were concerned. But she was revived and we sat with her and spoke with her for the remaining part of the trip.”

Burke said the plane landed at Midway Airport about two hours later and she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was treated.

“I always wondered how she was,” Burke said. “She was very grateful that we could help her.”

Burke says that the additional training he received helped prepare him to respond to any emergency he encounters, either at work, at home or while traveling.

Nearly all of the Orland Fire Protection District firefighters are trained as paramedics, he said.

“I’m always ready to help to someone in need. You have to be as a firefighter,” Burke said.

Burke currently holds the rank of engineer. He is the driver for Truck Four, the Ladder. His wife is Heather and they have three children, Reilly Lynn, 13, Quinn, 10, and Morgan, 9.


Friday, October 7, 2011

What will you do to protect your family from fire during Fire Prevention week this year?

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What will you do to protect your family from fire during Fire Prevention week this year? 
By Raymond Kay
Acting Chief, Orland Fire Protection District

Bringing special public attention to protecting lives and property from the dangers of fire has been a national campaign since 1920 in the United States called Fire Prevention Week which this year begins October 9 through Oct. 15.

Fire prevention week originated in 1922 and is always scheduled for the week that includes October 9th.  In 1871 on October 8th the Great Chicago Fire was started.  The fire burned for some period of time but the most significant damage took place on October 9th.   This conflagration killed more than 250 people, left approximately 100,000 people homeless, destroyed over 17,000 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.  This tragic fire became the driving force behind the Fire Prevention Week initiative.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire prevention theme this year, Protect Your Family From Fire, speaks to three recent close calls.  On three different days over the course of the last three months families narrowly escaped from the dangers of fire.

In July, seven residents, adults and children alike were startled from their sleep well after midnight by several good Samaritans who saw that the attached garage was well involved in fire.  The strangers along with several Orland Park Police officers woke the residents and helped them to safety.  The fire in this case was only minutes away from spreading into the children’s bedroom when they escaped.

On a beautiful August Saturday, just after 12 pm, a fire erupts in the garage of a four unit townhouse.  The resident is awake and moving about in a seemingly normal day.  The fire moves so quickly that he escapes with only the clothes on his back.  Two of the four attached units are damaged by the fire.  Most importantly, nobody was injured from the smoke and flames.

It is Patriot Day, September 11, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks upon our country.  In between a number of memorial services, 8:30 in the morning fire strikes in the basement of another townhouse, the family is still asleep.  An adult smells smoke, realizes that the house is on fire, calls 911 for help and wakes other adults and the children guiding them out of the burning structure.  Luckily, there are no injuries.  In this case, there are no working smoke detectors.

Three groups of people were fortunate this summer; they all experienced a close call narrowly avoiding injury or death from smoke and fire.  The incidents shared here all took place at different times of day.  Some residents were fast asleep and others wide awake.  The fires started in different parts of the home. 

Luckily the only common thread among these fires is that nobody was injured.  All of these fires could have had very different, tragic outcomes.

Fire can strike at any time.  You have the opportunity to prevent fires, quickly detect smoke or fire and the ability plan your escape.  Use resources like the Orland Fire Protection District website ( or the NFPA website ( to learn more about:

-      A Family Fire Safety Checklist – where adults and kids can play a role in your home’s fire safety
-      Smoke Detectors – Change your batteries twice per year
-      Practice your escape plane – Exercise your plan with the whole family twice each year

Happily, the fires from this summer did not result in any injuries.  Visit the websites provided, download your free information and please take the advice of the NFPA - Protect Your Family From Fire.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Orland Fire Protection District Budget opened to public for first time

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Orland Fire Protection District Budget process opened to public for first time

OFPD – For the first time in its 42 year official history, the Orland Fire Protection District opened its budget  deliberations to the public and began a line-by-line review of district spending.

OFPD President Jim Hickey and Acting Fire Chief Raymond Kay led the first of three public hearings with board members who attended the meeting Blair Rhode, Chris Evoy and Glenn Michalek.

Hickey said the new process is designed so that interested taxpayers can understand what has been a very complicated budget process in the past.

“We have divided the budget into three parts. Essential spending, spending that is important and spending that is considered beneficial but not always essential to the operation of the Fire District,” Hickey said.

“We have placed district services and spending in each category so that we can ensure that we preserve and protect the high quality of service that the taxpayers are paying for, and to find ways to trim the budget to make it more in line with the challenges of today’s economy and with the spending reflected by other public fire agencies. Our spending is way up there and there is a false notion that spending and quality service are linked.”

Hickey said the OFPD has some of the best trained firefighters in the country, but he said that the past budgets have reflected an attitude that went “way beyond” reason and resulted in excessive spending that in reality didn’t always make a difference in terms of fire quality.

“On Tuesday (Oct. 4) we went through the first part of the budget reviewing eight areas of service, examining the spending needs line-by-line. It was a fascinating process to review what we are doing and how we can do it better and also more efficiently and cost-effectively,” Hickey said.

Hickey said department heads are being asked to bring their budget needs to the board for review, categorizing them in three areas of need from the most important to those that can be more carefully managed.

“The taxpayers are demanding that we look at spending at the fire district,” said Rhode. “The taxes for the fire district are the highest after spending for the local school districts. As a government agency, we have a responsibility to the public not just to give them the best fire protection services but to do so in the most cost-effective manner with an eye towards protecting the hard-earned dollars that they put in to our government.”

Hickey said that the district will hold two more budget meetings on Tuesday Oct. 11 and Tuesday Oct. 18, both beginning at 5 pm. The district’s regularly scheduled board meeting is Tuesday Oct. 25, also at 5 pm.

Since the new board was sworn in, the district has saved more than $1 million, mainly through personnel changes and cutbacks in costs from reducing media consulting costs by $12,000 to reducing some non-essential services.

Evoy said that he is hopeful that the District’s new Springfield Lobbyist will help identify funding sources that will be used to help cover costs that now come from taxpayer pockets. The District’s lobbyist in Springfield is Cheryl Axley who was hired in June. Axley joins consultant Cindy Katsenes who is working for the district pro bono and is looking at ways to better manage the district's personnel budget and assignments.

Hickey said that he is hopeful the district could qualify for grants as much as $500,000 to off-set spending for next year’s budget.

“Our goal is to return money to the taxpayers who continue to do their part by supporting this district,” Hickey said. “We need to do our part.”

Kay said that the previous budget process included the submittal of a request by those who administer the budget, followed by administrative reduction. 

“In the past, the budget preparers did not realize what their budget contained until they saw it again in January when it was distributed,” Kay said.

“This year, after reviewing the sum of all proposals, budget preparers were asked to revisit their budgets with the task of reducing their requests.  As a result of this activity, 1 million dollars were collectively reduced across all budget submittals.”

Each of the budget preparers now have an idea of which components are more critical or not and make adjustments accordingly.  Kay added the preparers are involved in decision-making.

“Each of these people have more of a sense of engagement in their particular areas,” Kay said. “They also understand that this may not be the final action on their budget because they are looking at only a segment of the whole and do not have the opportunity to see the big picture.  I expect that the Board of Trustees will further address these requests to determine a final budget.”

The Orland district area was served by a volunteer fire force that began sometime in 1894, but the District was officially founded in 1973.