Evanston, Skokie to share fire training facility

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

The Evanston City Council will vote Monday on an intergovernmental agreement between the city and Skokie that would allow Evanston Fire and Life Safety Services to use Skokie’s training facility.

The Skokie Village Board approved the agreement Oct. 1 to share Fire Station 17, according to a Skokie news release. The training facility, 8157 Central Park Ave., would accommodate the needs of both fire departments while saving Evanston the cost of building its own. The partnership is contingent on approval by Evanston aldermen.

The agreement would grant Evanston firefighters the use of Station 17, a live fire-training tower, for 10 years with a five-year renewal option. In exchange, the city of Evanston would make a one-time payment of $286,000 to Skokie to cover repairs and upgrades to the tower, including a natural gas-burning facility, said Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber. The agreement also includes a $15,000 annual fee for general tower maintenance. Klaiber estimated the improvements to the tower would be complete by next summer.

Evanston firefighters would use the facility for live fire training; personnel could practice different emergency scenarios in a real-life environment. Skokie Fire Chief Ralph Czerwinski said the tower allows for active training in a controlled environment. For example, it enables firefighters to practice in a burning apartment building complete with stairs and objects, but which poses no danger to civilians.

“This tower provides a full spectrum of training and can be configured in many manners and used again and again and again,” Czerwinski said.

Klaiber said this agreement would allow Evanston firefighters to obtain necessary facilities at a cost far cheaper than building a new training center in Evanston. He estimated that constructing a new tower would cost more than $800,000.

The use of Skokie’s tower would also give Evanston firefighters a consistent practice time. In previous years, the department relied on the use of properties that were abandoned or going to be demolished to practice in a live-fire environment, Klaiber said.

The agreement dictates the amount of time that each department would use the facility. Every month, each department would use the tower by itself for one week, in addition to one week of joint practice and one week for maintenance.

Evanston firefighters toured Fire Station 17 on Monday, Klaiber said.

“I am pleased that the Village of Skokie is able to enter into this mutually beneficial partnership with the City of Evanston,” said Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen in an Oct. 2 news release. “I am pleased that the City of Evanston recognizes the benefit of using this local, convenient and state-of-the-art training structure, and laud Evanston officials for their willingness to invest in maintaining the drill tower.”

Czerwinski said firefighters from Evanston and Skokie have a long history of collaboration, and this partnership is another step to enhance both agencies.

“The benefit of this effort is bi-directional for the communities we serve, it is financially responsible, functionally appropriate and operationally it elevates each of the agencies ability to the benefit of the citizens we serve,” Czerwinski said in the release.