Youth fire camp ignites passion for public safety


CHICAGO (CBS) — A suburban camp is a literal dumpster fire, a blazing mess, on purpose. Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us to Romeoville to explain.

“We’re just gonna win. That’s our strategy. We’re just gonna win,” said 13-year-old Reuben Roberts ahead of a friendly camp competition involving a dumpster set on fire.

“Just put it out. Just trying to put it out,” said Robert of his mindset during the challenge which involved spraying a firehose to douse the flames.

The teen’s type of focus is needed for the real-life problems encountered by firefighters. The idea at Romeoville Youth Fire Camp is to expose kids to all sorts of scenarios.

“I was like, ‘Woah! This is crazy,’ because I’ve never done this before,” said Reagan McNair, 10, after her turn dousing the flames of a pickup truck on fire.

The 10-to-13 year-olds started the weeklong session with the basics: old-school firefighting passing buckets of water. Then they visited younger kids at a different camp to impart some of their new knowledge.

“We were teaching 7 and under how to do “Stop, Drop, and Roll” if they’re on fire; so, later in life, if they have a house fire, they can get out safely,” explained 13-year-old Emily Rossio.

Battalion Chief Mike Spradau knew that only demonstrating fire equipment might lose the crowd. He’d have to keep things hands-on to engage campers.

“We were a little nervous when the camp first started. We were like, ‘How is this gonna go? They’re 10 to 13. We don’t have our phones out,'” said Spradau.

Keeping their attention hasn’t been an issue with plenty of (fiery) entertainment and the assignment of McNair as commanding officer of her team.

“I am like, watching everyone, making sure they’re in line and not goofing off,” she said.

Romeoville Fire is one of several departments struggling to fill jobs right now. In recent months, 10 out of 12 part time positions were vacant which means camp is about more than fun and fire safety.

“One of the things we came up with as chiefs is, maybe we can start recruiting these kids at a young age,” said Spradau, who hopes providing this free camp will ignite in the kids a passion for public safety, years in advance.

“I might think of actually becoming one [a firefighter],” said Roberts, unprompted in his interview with us.

Recruitment efforts will need to wait a bit to bear fruit. Most firefighting positions in Illinois require men/women to be 21 years old.

Lauren Victory

Lauren Victory is a Morning Insider reporter for CBS2 Chicago. Lauren joined the station in May 2016 and is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.