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Police Academy great; how about a Fire Academy?

Carbon monoxide emergency prompts an idea for a new learning experience

Having just finished a 10-week Citizens Police Academy course, I’m still beaming with excitement about all we got to talk about and see firsthand. Journaling about what we did was surprisingly one of my most favorite assignments. And I’m not just saying that so the Princeton Police will hand me a get-out-of-jail-free card.

With the experiences I had in the police academy combined with a personal encounter I recently had with another highly-regarded city department, it got me thinking about ideas for a different kind of citizens academy Princeton should offer.

About the middle of last month, I had to have the Princeton Fire Department sent to my house. It turned out to not be a serious emergency, but nevertheless, it startled my husband and me.

We were just settling in at home after work, when we jumped at the sound of a screeching alarm, followed by a mechanical voice blaring, “Warning! Carbon Monoxide.”

We sprang from the couch and followed the noise into our kitchen. Sure enough, it was the old carbon monoxide alarm we keep (sort of hidden away) on a top shelf.

Our first thought was the old detector was malfunctioning. Maybe the batteries were going bad. We hardly paid attention to it.

My husband ran to the upstairs to grab one of our newer detectors we keep on the second floor between our daughters’ bedrooms. On his way back downstairs, his foot hadn’t even hit the bottom step when the second alarm began screeching.

I freaked out feeling something was not right. I’ve read too many news articles (even written one myself) and heard too many unfortunate stories about dealings with the silent killer.

Through the screeching alarms, I yelled at my husband, we needed to get out and call the fire department. I scrambled to find my shoes, clicked the dog leash on poor Marley, who was in a daze at all the excitement, and ran out our front door.

Time to call 911

My husband followed and we exchanged a quick back-and-forth about who would call 911. I felt a bit intimidated as my fingers grazed those familiar numbers we hear so much about, but hardly ever have to dial.

A calm voice on the other end confirmed my location, asked about my emergency and assured me they’d be dispatching the fire department right away. The voice also made sure everyone was out of the house and that no one was feeling sick, to which I thankfully responded, “no.” I was also thankful our young daughters were at grandma’s house for the night.

My husband and I sat outside and listened to the faint noise of the screeching carbon monoxide detectors blaring inside our home as we waited for the fire department to arrive.

As the hometown reporter, I’ve been on scene at numerous urgent situations, but it felt surreal sitting in the middle of my own emergency. It was a weird feeling seeing the fire truck pull into our driveway and watching three firefighters jump out with their gear, ready to assess our situation.

They never missed a beat finding the issue right away. Turns out, the gas was coming from our basement where my husband had been running a powerwasher to clean a sewage backup we endured during heavy rains that week. The powerwasher had been running only five minutes or so (my husband says), but it was enough time to create an unsafe amount of gas.

After taking measurements throughout the rooms in our house, the firefighters helped us open windows to air out the home. They doubled-checked our appliances and gas fireplace to ensure they were not leaking. They examined our rooms several times until their devices measured zero all throughout the house.

Once their job was complete, we signed a form stating the actions they took to solve the issue, then we shook their hands and thanked them for their help. We were extremely grateful for their service during a time of uncertainty.

Our situation was minor compared to the sorts of emergencies our firefighters get called out to. Regardless, the guys treated it with the utmost professionalism and care, and we cannot thank them enough for that.

New idea for citizens course

After this occurrence, I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a citizens course we could take to get a better understanding about the importance of our local fire department? You know, kind of like the Citizens Police Academy, but with fire. Why not call it Citizens Fire Academy?

Chief Chuck Woolley, if you’re reading this, please note I’ve been mulling this idea around in the my head for the last couple of weeks. Hear me out on this. There’s so much we citizens could get out of a fire academy.

Just some quick ideas for classes: We could tour the fire department. We could talk about fire training and tactics. We could get a lesson on carbon monoxide. The Illinois Fire Marshal could be brought in to talk about fire investigations. We could get a lesson on all the firefighters’ equipment. We could learn about the EMS side of the fire department. We could even do a ride-along with the firefighters. The possibilities are endless.

Chief Woolley, if the idea for a Citizens Fire Academy ever comes to fruition, let me know. I’ll be the first to sign up!

Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is the senior staff writer at the Bureau County Republican. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @bcr_grapp.

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