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Local emergency response workers and residents 
gather around a UCAN helicopter that landed at 
H-F High School as part of a training program. 

(Photo by Tom Houlihan/HF Chronicle)

The maroon-colored helicopter approached H-F High School from the northeast, circled a few times and began a slow descent onto the soccer field at the campus’s southwest corner. As it landed, the chopper raised fast-moving clouds of newly-mowed grass.

Tom Papandria, right, a
UCAN flight nurse, talks with
emergency responders during
a training session Friday in
(Photo by Tom
Houlihan/HF Chronicle)

A couple of minutes later, the helicopter’s blades had stopped and it was surrounded by a crowd of area firefighters, along with a number of curious community members. Many posed for pictures using cell phones or more sophisticated cameras.

Kevin Welsh, Glenwood’s fire chief, was there with his 3-year-old grandson. He placed the boy, also named Kevin, in the chopper’s aft section.

“He’s living large,” Welsh said of his grandson. “”And he’s loving it.”

It was all part of a training exercise hosted this week by the Flossmoor Fire Department. Twenty firefighters, mostly from towns in Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) District 24 — an area roughly bounded by Tinley Park on the west, Calumet City on the east, Riverdale on the north and Flossmoor on the south — are finishing up classes to be certified as  vehicle and machine rescue technicians. MABAS is a mutual aid training organization.

At a training session in Flossmoor earlier this week, an instructor from the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network (UCAN) addressed students on helicopter evacuation procedures. A UCAN helicopter was scheduled to land at the high school on Tuesday but was called instead to an actual emergency.

Captain Matt Berk, Flossmoor’s fire department training officer, said the course is designed to teach firefighters how to deal with incidents involving different types of vehicles — cars, buses, semitrailers, farm equipment and trains – as well as industrial accidents involving machines.

Kevin Welsh and his
grandson, also named Kevin, 
get a close look at the 
UCAN helicopter while it was 
parked at H-F High School 
Friday as part of a training 
(Photo by Tom 
Houlihan/HF Chronicle)

The curriculum, established by the State Fire Marshal’s office, deals partly with setting up and securing helicopter landing zones. UCAN has the expertise to explain the do’s and don’ts of helicopter landing operations, Berk said.

“It’s not every day we as the fire service have this opportunity,” he said. “So we take advantage of it when we do.”

Lt. Chris Bednarek of the Chicago Heights Fire Department is the course instructor. He said the 40-hour class is concluding this week.

“It’s kind of a hard class to teach,” Bednarek said. “You need to become familiar with so many types of vehicles and machines.” He said the Wilkens Auto Resupply yard, in Chicago Heights, has been a unique training ground for all types of extrication exercises.

“We were there the other day and got to use a garbage truck,” he said. 

Berk said local firefighters want people to know they are doing all they can to protect the community.

Such exercises, he said, show “that our organization, as well as other fire departments, train daily to prepare ourselves for any type of incident.”

Contact Tom Houlihan at [email protected]

A UCAN helicopter arrives at H-F High School 
Friday morning for a training program hosted 
by Flossmoor Fire Department and sponsored 
by MABAS District 24.
(Photo by Tom 
Houlihan/HF Chronicle)


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