At about 1:30am on Thursday February 20, the news photographer from KSDK-Saint Louis arrived on the scene of a vacant house fire in Washington Park, Illinois. As he began to shoot, he realized that there was only one firefighter battling the blaze. The video shows the lone Washington Park volunteer firefighter battling the fire by himself for almost 30 minutes until crews from other stations arrived on scene to help.
Volunteer firefighter Dante Brooks manned the truck and the hose until help arrived 30 minutes later. As the fire raged, a police officer evacuated the home next door. Brooks told KSDK that his main priority was to make sure that the fire didn’t spread to the neighboring homes. Brooks said that it is a dangerous situation to have so little manpower available to battle the fires. “I had to get pulled out by the police officer because the fire rolled on me”, Brooks told KSDK.
Last July, the Washington Park village board voted to lay off seven firefighters, retaining an interim fire chief. The laid-off firefighters were being asked to become “volunteers” and the chief was responsible for scheduling them. The village was $7 million in the red. While laying off the $10/hour firefighters, the village hired a private consultant at $40,000 and a city planner at $25,000. They have also issued no-bid contracts. Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka called for a criminal investigation into the village’s finances.
At that time of the layoffs, firefighters voiced their opinions that cutting the firefighters who make $10/hour and expecting them to volunteer while hiring new employees was politically motivated. Andre Henderson, a laid off firefighter, told the Belleville News-Democrat in July “They don’t understand that the citizens of Washington Park will be in danger.” Another firefighter called the layoffs “a bunch of mess” and said that the Washington Park Fire Department hadn’t been volunteer for over 20 years.
“With the layoffs, we don’t have the manpower. People can’t support their families by being laid off so, pretty much we’re out here by our self when we can”, Brooks told KSDK.
Brooks did a great job of containing the fire and preventing it from spreading. However, the vacant home was destroyed.