Western Springs fields record class of firefighters
Firefighter Geoff Pender steps out of the window as firefighter and instructor Mike Winner guides him as he rappels down the side of the hose tower. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:15AM
Ryan Dudek has wanted to be a firefighter since he was 10 years old.
The 20-year-old lifeguard and hockey coach is working toward his bachelor’s degree in fire service administration at the College of DuPage.
So when Dudek learned that the village of Western Springs was hiring firefighters he leapt at the opportunity.
“It will give me a chance to give back to Western Springs. I grew up there for 12, 13 years, and they offered me a lot. … Now I can give back in another way,” Dudek said.
Dudek was among 18 individuals sworn in June 25 as probationary on-call firefighters for the village. It was the largest group of new on-call firefighters hired in the past two decades.
Western Springs’ fire department is unique compared to many other area communities.
Each day the village has two full-time, firefighter-paramedics working. Since those firefighters are hired on contract, the village does not have to pay their health care or benefits.
From 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, the village has a captain working. When there is a call for a fire in Western Springs, all the responding firefighters are paid-on-call firefighters.
“This department is built on the backs of the residents, it truly is,” Kenny said. “They’ll come in at 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning . . . they won’t even get home until 4:30 then have to catch the 7:15 train to the city (for their day jobs).”
All the paid-on-call firefighters must either live within Western Springs, or within a mile of its borders. That means when firefighters respond to a fire, they are responding to neighbors.
“It’s very unlikely in a career organization that you’ll (be helping) someone that you know. Here, there’s a real good chance of that,” Kenny said.
The paid-on-call firefighters also have to respond to at least 10 percent of the emergency calls that come in each year.
“You have to love it, or else they wouldn’t do it, they would have washed out during the academy because the commitment alone,” Kenny said.
Having paid-on-call firefighters saves the village money, but it could also have its down side. People tend to quit or move on to career firefighter jobs at other stations.
Right now, that is Dudek’s end goal.
“It helps you in a bunch of ways. One: it gets you experience. Two: It helps you actually get to see the job,” Dudek said.
To keep up with firefighter turn-over, Kenny has to regularly recruit new firefighters.
This year, the fire department originally aimed for 10 new paid, on-call firefighters. However, Kenny was so impressed with the final 18 recruits he asked for more money from the village to pay for their anticipated service. The fire department also received a grant to help pay for most of the new firefighters’ gear.
Dudek said after meeting the other recruits, he has learned they share his life-long passion for firefighting.
“It sounds like (firefighting) was something that they wanted to do since they were little,” Dudek said.
Mia Scavuzzo works at her family’s restaurant. The 22-year-old Western Springs resident said she applied to be a paid, on-call firefighter because, like Dudek, she wanted to be able to give back to her community. She was among the 18 sworn in.
She said the others want to give back to the community as well.
“Actually, the chief and I just had this conversation not too long ago. He said he was so shocked as to how many people came into the interview and answered that question (why join), in the same way,” Scavuzzo said.
Now that Dudek is on the department, the 20-year-old Indian Head Park resident is grateful to be able to call himself a firefighter.
“It’s really cool. I mean it’s something I’ve wanted to say for a long time now and it feels great to say it,” he said.
But there is more to being a firefighter than the title alone, Dudek said.
“It feels cool to be in a position to help people,” he said.