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Normal Firefighters Regroup After Hectic Weekend

Normal Fire Department / Facebook
A train derailment in Uptown Normal on Saturday later spurred two fires. That's on top of an apartment fire and routine calls for service handled by the Normal Fire Department.

It was a long weekend for the Normal Fire Department.

It started early Saturday morning, when a freight train derailed in Uptown. That afternoon, a fire destroyed a dozen units at Sugar Creek Apartments. Then came two more fires from trailers overturned by the derailment. All of that on top of routine calls for service.

No one was hurt during the weekend's catastrophes. But NFD Public Information Officer Matt Swaney said first responders sure are tired.

“We usually at least have some down time between our workdays and the firefighters can go home and recuperate,” Swaney said. “But in this case, we were calling back shifts quite frequently over the weekend. So, we wouldn't have been able to do it without our mutual aid agencies to help us.”

Swaney said fire departments from Bloomington, Bloomington Township, Dale Township, Danvers, Carlock, Hudson and Towanda stepped up to make sure all calls were answered.

But Mother Nature didn’t pay them any favors, Swaney said.

There were multiple technical issues along the way—mainly when equipment was sitting around getting too cold too fast. At one point, he said, a tower ladder truck became frozen and had to be manually lowered.

Swaney said most equipment hiccups were overcome quickly. But it was a little bit harder for the firefighters on the scene.

“This was obviously a very bitter weekend, and we were flowing a lot more water than we'd like to when it's this cold out,” Swaney said. “We were rotating crews through as fast as we could, just so that people had a chance to warm back up. Our gear keeps us warm, until it gets wet.

"Then it gets frozen and it's basically like wearing an ice suit. Our gloves got wet and they froze to our fingers. The boots got wet, and then it's like carrying around a dumbbell on each leg.”

Frostbite, hypothermia and exhaustion were concerns over the hectic weekend, Swaney said. The adrenaline rush kept the department moving, but firefighters eventually hit a wall and needed to rest.

“We're not robots. We are human beings and we just really had an exhausting weekend,” he said. “They're doing as much as they can to rest and recuperate. Right now, the shift that's on duty is maintaining everything as far as calls for service in town and it's just getting back to normal.”

Swaney said clean-up is still underway after the derailment—an effort not helped by heavy snowfall on Monday. He said the railroad tracks are able to accommodate some traffic, with passenger and freight trains passing through on Tuesday. Temporary rails are in place where damage occurred from the derailment.

He added that restoration of service should not be a drawn-out process.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.