SOUTH CHICAGO — Firefighters who operated a Fire Department tower ladder truck out of a South Chicago station for years are calling on department officials to reverse their decision to move the ladder to a Far South Side fire house.
Tower 34 was housed at Engine Company 72, 7974 S. South Chicago Ave. The ladder with a platform to hold firefighters and retrieve citizens moved to the department’s $30 million fire station in West Pullman, which opened this week. It’s being replaced by a standard aerial ladder truck with fewer features.
“It’s a necessity for the community to put that [tower] rig back in service” in South Chicago, Engine Company 72 Capt. Wayne Spires said. “You have 100,000-plus people that’s involved, that are endangered … . Our fight at this point is to bring Tower Ladder 34 back at this current location.”
Tower trucks aren’t bound by geography, and “the entire city is covered” by all available trucks, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. He said tower trucks are still in service in Hyde Park, Back of the Yards and Archer Heights.
When asked why officials opted to relocate the tower ladder from South Chicago instead of buying one for the West Pullman station, Langford said the Fire Department has enough equipment — “it’s firehouses and locations we had to refine.”
The station at 119th and Morgan streets allows trucks easy access to Interstates 57 and 94. It also takes some pressure off Engine Company 80, 12701 S. Doty Ave., in responding to South Side calls, Langford said.
The Hyde Park and South Chicago tower trucks were “bunched up,” and the move spreads tower trucks “out across the South Side in a nice, reasonable way,” he said.
The tower truck was well-placed in South Chicago when the Robert Taylor Homes were still around, but the public housing project along State Street “has been gone for a long time,” Langford said.
Yet residents fear South Side neighborhoods with many high-rises still in existence — and with higher densities than the area around West Pullman — will now see slower response times if fires require a tower truck.
A petition to return the tower ladder to the South Chicago fire house received nearly 300 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters and neighbors held a protest against the Fire Department’s decision Feb. 25, according to the Sun-Times.
“The last thing we need is a loss of life because of a fire” now that the tower truck has moved, said Danielle Richards, a community organizer with Alliance of the Southeast.
“Between the big buildings in South Shore … the factories on the Southeast Side and Hegewisch, we can’t let that move and [the firefighters] don’t want it to move,” Richards said. “That tower helped on a fire on my block a couple months ago. If that tower ladder wasn’t there, that house would probably be destroyed.”
Engine Company 72 firefighters “welcome a new tower ladder out south,” but that could’ve been done without removing the truck from South Chicago, said Spires, who has served with the Fire Department for more than 30 years.
Even with the tower truck already moved, officials can still “come back, reassess the situation and reimplement Tower Ladder 34 back in service,” Spires said. “You can still maintain [a] tower ladder … at the new fire house, but there’s no need to take us out of service.”
Ald. Michelle Harris’ (8th) office did not return requests for comment.
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