Lawmakers learn to stand the heat

By Anna Yee

February 27, 2012 Updated Mar 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The sound of a fire alarm usually means get out, unless you're a firefighter.

The Associated Firefighters of Illinois are showing lawmakers like State Senator Dave Koehler what it takes to fight fires.

"By and large, what this event is today is just to help us who are not doing this every day to just appreciate a little bit more what firefighters have to go through," said Senator Dave Koehler, (D) 46th District,

That includes tasks like carefully breaking down a vehicle from around a trapped victim and performing search and rescue missions with some pretty powerful equipment.

Right now, you're seeing my image in a thermal imaging camera. Firefighters use this to detect body heat when searching for victims in a fire.

In any emergency fire, work is labor-intensive.

President of Peoria Firefighters' Union Local 50, Captain Andy Perry, says the most important tool is the manpower.

"When you hear of cutting firefighters, cutting public safety, maybe a legislator is going to remember, 'I remember going through that fire ops safety program, and it took a lot of people to get something done,' said Captain Perry, "and we hope that's going to reflect on the decisions that they make down the road."

Cuts have been an issue, statewide.

Luckily in Peoria, none were recently made, thanks to grants, but Perry says the city can't afford to lose anyone.

"If we're at 3 people or 4 people for an engine," continued Perry, "we can't go down from there. We just cannot regress."

"That's the message that's loud and clear to me," said Senator Koehler. "Just because the state is having problems, doesn't mean we can take it out on somebody else, because it also affects public safety. It affects jobs. It affects a lot of things at the local level."

After learning the ropes here, Koehler will go back to budget talks for this legislative session.

Meanwhile, Perry says the union may consider looking for more hired hands when negotiating a new contract this summer.

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