Subtitle: How an unfortunate rumor got started
(Caution to more sensitive readers. And to anyone with good taste.)
So, our block club was having a planning meeting to get ready for our annual block party when someone asked the perennial question: how can we increase our chances of a visit by a Chicago Fire Department crew and engine?
Each year we dutifully fill out all of the paperwork you’re supposed to submit to your alderman. Three standard forms: street closure application, Jumping Jack/Bouncy House request (now online), and the request for a visit by a fire truck.
Out of seven previous years of going through the proper bureaucratic channels to make the request, we have only had a fire engine make ONE appearance. During one other year I was told that the truck came by our block. But because the street was closed and neighbors weren’t able to find me (the contact person) the truck just kept going and didn’t visit with us. We even have multiple fire fighters who live on our block who haven’t been able to pull strings.
Why is this important? Block parties are supposed to be about the kids. Kids LOVE fire trucks. Kids love fire fighters. They like taking pictures with the truck. They like taking pictures with the crew. They like hearing about how the systems work. They love getting the little fire safety coloring books. To be honest, the adults get a kick out of those things, too. When the fire truck shows up, it’s just a nice experience all around.
So, after last year’s no-show, I decided to take matters into my own hands. As the block club president, I was going to do everything in my power to git ‘er done this year.
We’re all adults here and I’m sure I don’t have to mention that not all communities assume the same expectation of perks. Barring emergencies, we perceive that some of the better resourced, higher income neighborhoods to the south and west of us can plan to have a fire engine visit each year at a block party. Where we live? Not so much. But that’s another post for another day.
I’m not gonna cry about it and I’m not trying to overthrow the system right now. I don’t have the hopelessness for the first option or the energy for the second. Plus I’m working nights and weekends. In this city it’s all about who you know. And what lengths you’re willing to go to get results.
I needed a plan. I could imagine Sean Connery saying in my ear, “You said you wanted to GET a fire truck. Well, what are you prepared to do?!”
At the holidays last year at my own expense, I delivered two store bought bundt cakes directly to our local fire station, marked so each crew would have their share. As quiet as it’s kept, I discovered that day that not all of my block president responsibilities can really be labeled as “work.” When I stepped inside the building I learned that, apparently, fire stations are where they warehouse all the hot guys. Who knew?!! The guys were super-nice and friendly and they appreciated that residents were thinking of them.
So when the block club members decided earlier this summer that we would bypass the red tape and deliver one more “hey-don’t-forget-about-us” cake along with a request letter including the event details, I won’t tell you I was upset about the need to stop by again. But I wasn’t gonna admit that to my fellow club members.
Before I go on, I need to explain a little about our block club. We have been consistent and growing for eight years. We have a mix of races. Members range in age from folks in their teens to people in their 70s. We do ice breakers to learn each other’s favorite colors, movies, food, etc. We generate great energy and maintain consistent engagement. Residents forgo their dinners to come to meetings because we get the job done but have a nice time while doing it. You gotta make it fun or else people will stop coming.
Historically the work of block clubs in communities of color has been admirably carried out by women. This is one of the few public spaces where women could exert a degree of power. But there’s something to be said for a decent gender balance in this type of community group. What’s surprising enough to bear mentioning about our block club is the consistent, engaged and welcome presence of men. Contrary to shying away from an arena which has traditionally drawn a very high ratio of women, some of the men in our group suggest we need to meet more often. Once when there was a conflict that challenged my desire to keep things going, one of the men approached me and said, "We are not going to let the devil tear down what we built."
Read all the posts in this 4-part series:
3.) Have you hugged a firefighter today?
4.) The Chicago Fire Department: hat’s off to our unsung heroes
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