The cast of thousands guaranteeing the safety of Chicago Public School students displaced by school closings includes “a little over 50” companies from the Chicago Fire Department.
They’re assigned to stand along “Safe Passage” routes—for one hour in the morning and 90 minutes at night–to make kids feel safe while walking longer distances down unfamiliar streets, sometimes through rival gang turf.
“That’s roughly half the force. They’re out on street corners with their equipment. They’re all in service. Some are a couple blocks [away from firehouses]. Some are a few more blocks. In the event that a run does come through, they just respond from their respective corners,” said Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.
“This is something the administration feels will help make children safe. We help make people safe every day and we’ll continue to do so. As of now, there is no end date.”
After spending the morning with several of the fire companies involved, Ryan described the Safe Passage assignment as “pretty uneventful,” adding, “They’re just standing by engaging the public as kids are walking to school.”
Ryan said Chicago firefighters “work hand-in-hand with police every day” and “this is nothing different.” But, he remains concerned about the safety of his members.
“If something violent in nature were to happen, people are gonna run to people in uniform for protection and we don’t have the training or equipment to deal with something like that,” Ryan said.
What advice has he given his members?
“Protect yourself. Do your best. Do what you can,” Ryan said.
“We are emergency workers. Our biggest fear is always the unknown. That’s our biggest challenge and our biggest fear. We have to respond, adapt and overcome every day.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reputation–and, perhaps, his political future–is riding on his ability to deliver on his promise to safeguard the 12, 700 impacted students and improve their new schools. That’s why the largest public school consolidation in the nation’s history is an all-hands-on-deck affair at City Hall.
Does Ryan believe the mayor is making a mistake involving firefighters?
“Don’t get me in a public war over this. We do as we are ordered to do,” he said.
“If this helps keep even one kid safe, we’re part of it.”