The Galewood townhome where a packed party was held over the weekend is owned by a Chicago Fire Department commander who also is among several firefighters being investigated over an unrelated online video.
That video, made as part of the “Don’t Rush Challenge,” might have violated city policy, fire department spokesman Larry Langford said. Nine female firefighters are in the video; one, identified as “Commander Matthews,” is CFD Cmdr. Christine Matthews, according to Langford.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) confirmed Matthews also owns the townhome in the 2000 block of North Narragansett where the party was held.
A video of the Saturday night party, streamed live on Facebook, showed dozens of young people crammed into the home — and hardly anyone wearing face masks. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which is hitting Chicago’s African American community especially hard, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the gathering “foolish and reckless.”
Villegas has blamed Matthews’ son for hosting the party. The son had a set of keys to his mother’s building and was able to disarm the townhome’s alarm system, the alderman has said. It is unclear whether Matthews knew he was planning to hold the event; she couldn’t be reached for comment.
A videographer who was at the party, Tink Purcell, streamed it on Facebook for about 24 minutes. Purcell has since told the news website The TRiiBE that the party was organized as a memorial to two friends of hers who were lost to gun violence.
Matthews’ son, 26-year-old Janeal Wright, told state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford in an interview livestreamed over Facebook that he was sorry for the party and didn’t realize the importance of social distancing when he threw it.
”I’ve been totally oblivious to the stay-at-home message and everything,” Wright said. “I really hadn’t known anything about it. I looked at it like a scam or something like that. Like it wasn’t real, but I see how serious it is now.”
Now, another video also could cause trouble for Matthews, the homeowner. It was made, one acquaintance said, in the spirit of fun, part of the “Don’t Rush Challenge,” an online event intended to break the stay-at-home boredom triggered by the pandemic.
Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II has asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate the 2 minute, 9 second video circulating on social media as part of the challenge.
In the Don’t Rush Challenge, participants shoot videos of themselves transforming from their bathrobes, pajamas or everyday work clothes into evening clothes and cocktail dresses. They then merge those videos with those of their peers, relatives and friends.
Most participants, who post the videos on the TikTok video-sharing platform, cover the camera with make-up brushes or towels before showcasing their going-out clothes.
The Chicago video under investigation starts with the nine female firefighters in uniform at firehouses dancing to the song, “Don’t Rush” by U.K. hip-hop duo Young T & Bugsey. Then they appear at home dressed up.
The video was produced by Process Progress Films. Participants’ last names and their CFD jobs are identified — along with some of their Twitter or Instagram handles — in the lower right corner of the screen.
Multiple attempts to reach out to the firefighters for comment were not successful.
“Shooting video while on-duty in a firehouse or using city equipment for publication without department approval is strictly prohibited,” Langford wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times. “We are aware of this particular video, which was not authorized by the department, and have turned it over to the Office of Inspector General for a full investigation.”
A man who identified himself as the owner of Process Progress Films said he was sent the film clips and put it together. The man, who would not give his name, said he had nothing to do with video shot at Chicago firehouses and was not aware those videos violate CFD policy.
“I didn’t come in with a camera to film anyone. I don’t know when they filmed it or how they filmed it. I was just shipped video clips and put ’em together. Took about 20 minutes,” said the owner, who also noted the Don’t Rush Challenge has become popular amid the pandemic.
“I’m not sure what the guidelines are. [But] they could potentially lose their jobs for something that doctors, mental [health professionals] — everybody has done. We’ve even seen police do it.”
Mike Butkus, director of contract enforcement for the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, declined to comment on the investigation. “I didn’t see it. It’s an allegation. So I’ve got to wait until I get the call and then, we’ll go from there,” Butkus said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
The Sun-Times offered to send Butkus a copy of the Don’t Rush Challenge video.
“I don’t want it sent to me. I’ll eventually get it,” he said. “Nothing’s been proven.”
Contributing: Jake Wittich