Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Firefighters gather from around region at annual training sessions hosted by South Suburban Fire Investigation Task Force

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Fire fighters gather from around region at annual training sessions hosted by South Suburban Fire Investigation Task Force

Orland Fire Protection District hosts events

By Ray Hanania
Special to the Orland Fire Protection District

The Orland Fire Protection District played host to the South Suburban Fire Investigation Task Force which was founded by Orland Firefighters a decade ago to provide hands-on training to firefighters from across the state.

About 115 firefighters and students attended the 4th Annual SSFITF Workshops which was held at the OFPD Training Center at 163rd Place and 108th Avenue Monday March 5 through Friday March 9.

The five-day seminars and training exercises featured presentations by experts in the firefighting field as well as  trainers in specialty services from the ATF, FBI and regional police services.

“We live by the knowledge that in order to determine the cause of a fire, you have to find the origin of the fire. We spend a lot of time training to improve our skills,” said Bill Leddin, a lieutenant in the OFPD and the Task Force commander and founder.

“Our job is to fight fires and save lives. And we need to keep up with the most up-to-date techniques and hi-tech equipment in order to do that.”

Leddin said that training seminars began in one of the OFPD Fire Houses about four months after Sept. 11, 2001. It originally consisted of six fire departments including Alsip, Crestwood, East Joliet, Frankfort, Homer, and Orland, as well as two police agencies including Orland Hills and Palos Park police departments.

PHOTO CAPTION: (Left to right)  Fire Investigator Tom Rafferty, Commander Bill Leddin, Deputy Commander Mike Bacon, Fire Investigator Art Rauch, Fire Investigator Dan Riordan, and Harold Kummelehne of the Office of the Illinois Fire Marshal.

Leddin was appointed its Task Force commander a year later and continued to expand under his leadership to include support and training agencies such as ATF, Cook County States Attorney Arson Prosecution Unit as well as the Cook County Sheriff's Police.

“We didn’t start because of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but because we realized that fire fighting faced the same challenges, the failure of all the various agencies to share information,” Leddin said.

“We got everyone together and recognized that one major challenge we had was that no one was sharing information. We were really talking to each other. We didn’t start as a result of 9/11 but because of the same concerns that arose that day about the need to have all the available information we needed to fight fires, save lives and protect the people in our service districts.”

Leddin said that the effort began with the efforts of volunteers and in recent years they began to charge fire fighters a modest $75 registration fee to cover some of the costs.

“The Orland Fire Protection District provides the space and hosts the event but we cover everything as fire fighters ourselves,” Leddin said. Leddin said the fire fighters are dedicated to improving their skills and none were hesitant to invest their own money to participate.

Training sessions include speakers from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, specialists who are experienced in responding to car and vehicle fires, arson investigators with arson profiling, officials from ATF, the FBI and from the five MABAS divisions.

“We had the FBI here talking to us about things like cell phone training, record tracking and how to use technology to improve the work we do,” Leddin said.

The attendees come from 120 active fire departments around the Chicagoland region including from fire teams in Kankakee and Bolingbrook. Leddin said most of the attendees are fire and arson fire fighters who spend time building on their existing skills. They represent federal, state, county, municipal police and fire departments throughout the south suburbs. The Will County State’s Attorney’s office as well as the Will County Sheriff’s Department and the Cook County bomb squad are also all members of the task force.

“This is one of the most important events we can host to strengthen the knowledge and experience of our firefighters,” said Acting OFPD Chief Raymond Kay.

“They bring a lot of experience together and then help train and share experience and knowledge on how to do things better.”

Leddin said the needs of the various municipalities and fire districts vary.

“Orland investigates about 50 fires each year with about 15 arson investigations in the district’s MABAS divisions,” Leddin said. “In other communities, it may be more or it may be less. Oftentimes, fire districts ask the Task Force for assistance in not only fighting fire but investigating causes of fires.”

Last week’s 5-day event is held annually, but Leddin said the Task Force conducts monthly specialty sessions and help to provide the training that firefighters need to be certified and re-certified every four years by the State of Illinois.

“We provide that training so that the fire fighters receive the certification,” Leddin said.

Leddin said Task Force support requests follow specific criteria for “call outs” and include: Great Bodily Injury, significant or debilitating injury or fatalities involving firefighters, police or civilians; Multiple fatalities; Large Commercial Structures involving fire or explosion; Multiple working fires within the same jurisdiction or MABAS Division;  Large fire losses requiring additional investigators and equipment; Serial arsons occurring within a given jurisdiction or MABAS Division; and, Mutual Aid request from a non participating agency meeting the above criteria.

The call would be made to the Orland Central Dispatch at 708-349-3121.

“We’re here to help,” Leddin said. “We all share the same concerns and face the same challenges. Working together makes us more successful at doing our jobs and protecting our communities and citizens.”