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Harvard fire trustees treading on new ground in evaluation of Altenburg Road fire

Fire personnel say trustees’ involvement is a first for them

A fire roared through a home Nov. 18 on Altenburg Road in Harvard.
A fire roared through a home Nov. 18 on Altenburg Road in Harvard.

In the aftermath of a major emergency, Harvard Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Don Davidson said it is standard for crews to perform a “hot wash,” where responders fully evaluate what may have gone wrong or right during an incident.

Davidson said this was performed after a Nov. 18 fire on Altenburg Road that took about eight hours for crews from 14 departments to get under control. The fire then reignited Tuesday morning and caused about $500,000 in damage, Davidson said.

The district’s Board of Trustees now is looking to examine the incident itself through a new process, which began during a special board meeting Thursday.

Although the meeting’s agenda contained an item that stated “discuss Altenburg Road fire,” trustees did not address the situation nor ask personnel about it.

Board President Thomas Condon said the meeting was meant to ensure that the board had approval before approaching firefighters about what may have gone right or wrong during the fire. He also said the whole process would be treading on new ground.

“Our only mission here is to try to find out everything we can about a large and devastating fire,” Condon said. “We just want solid information, to talk to the people who were there and make sure that everything was done like it should have been done.”

Davidson said this review is a first in his 30 years of service.

“[Trustees] asked to talk to us, which is fine,” Davidson said. “I didn’t know they need to have a meeting to do that.”

Davidson said one of the setbacks during the fire was the long driveway of the home, which was lined with trees and made it difficult for engines to navigate. One of the engines was dinged by a tree trying to drive through.

To regroup from the fire, Davidson said positive reinforcement will be key.

Battalion Chief Bryan Pierce said the district will go with the flow of the board’s direction.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to regroup, we’re going to make sure that the things that need to be improved on are improved on and the things that are good are going to be expounded on,” Pierce said.

No attendees spoke during public comment but David Grupp, a former fire chief in Long Grove, spoke after adjournment to discuss the possibility of the city of Harvard adopting an ordinance requiring sprinklers in homes.

“It is a coming thing, and the National Fire Protection Association and International Association of Fire Chiefs are both strongly encouraging that to be done, but it’s a slow and difficult issue,” Grupp said.

An executive session related to discipline scheduled at the end of the meeting was pulled from the agenda at the request of Trustee Roger Hugg.

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