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A Remarkable Monday

It may take some time to fully grasp the significance of events on Monday in Villa Park. In a Village that is approaching a 100 year anniversary, three greatly important events occurred in less than 12 hours. Two of the three events will help shape the future and one is an acknowledgment of many acts of true heroism.

The first significant event was the ceremony marking the completion of a major construction project. At 8:11 AM the Ardmore Bridge was reopened several years after the bridge had deteriorated to a dangerous level. Engineers first lowered the rating of the bridge and then recommended that the bridge be closed until all of the deficiencies could be corrected. Almost three years later a new bridge built by more than 100 workers has reopened. Originally built in the 1940s and rebuilt three decades ago, the new bridge is higher, stronger and safer than ever. In an era when the infrastructure of water systems, roadways and utilities is quickly becoming a critical concern, Villa Park stands ahead of a crisis. A new bridge, resurfaced main streets of Villa Avenue, Addison Road and St. Charles Road and sewer and water system improvements are just some of the significant public works projects completed in the past 5 years. Although much more is still needed to repair side streets and water systems, the Ardmore Bridge project is the most recent event that was done remarkably well. The materials used and quality controls in place during the construction of the bridge far exceed those used in 1978 when the bridge was last constructed. The Ardmore Bridge built in 1978 lasted just a little more than 30 years. This time it can easily last beyond a half century.

Just under 12 hours later the second floor of the Villa Park Village Hall was packed beyond its seating capacity by dozens of police officers, fire fighter and paramedics, their family members and local residents. During a workshop session of the Board of Trustees former Lombard Battalion Chief Ronald Rakosnik was sworn in as the new Villa Park Fire Chief. Chief Rakosnik has been a member of the fire department for over 30 years. His experience in firefighting, emergency medical services and fire administration is many time more than what a typical firefighter might experience in an entire career. As a highly respected veteran, Ronald Rakosnik begins what may be decades of leadership in the Villa Park Fire Department. Chief Rakosnik demonstrated to everyone his leadership and experience when on May 29 he took command of what is the most significant fire incident in Villa Park in more than 50 years.

The Villa Park VFW Post was occupied by 70 people when a fire was ignited in the lower level of the building. Smoke quickly filled the lower and main levels where VFW members and guests were gathering for Bingo Night. Ten people were injured and transported to local and regional hospitals. Sixty people were saved and evacuated from the building unhurt. Ronald Rakosnik lead the team of firefighters and emergency medical services paramedics at the incident. Since that fire, he has also directed the fire department in several more potentially dangerous calls that have all been handled without loss of life.

Shortly after Chief Rakosnik was sworn in as the new Fire Chief, the Village Of Villa Park recognized a long list of Police Officers and Firefighter/Paramedics who were called to the VFW fire. Before the awards were presented by Village President Tom Cullerton, the VFW Commander Dennis Geiseman stood at the podium and thanked the Village Manager Richard Keehner for providing resources to the VFW Post immediately after the fire. Commander Geiseman then turned his attention to the dozens of Villa Park Police and Fire personnel that responded to the VFW. In heartfelt words Geiseman thanked them for their actions. “It could have been much worse. From the bottom of my heart I thank you and from the veterans at the VFW Post they thank you from the bottom of their hearts.”, Commander Geiseman said.

Then, starting with Villa Park Lieutenant Esposito, who was in command of the Police at the scene, President Cullerton presented a certificate to first responders. Some were on duty and could not receive the award in person. Here are just a few specific acts of heroism and professionalism that these men and women demonstrated at the VFW Fire.

The Villa Park Police Department was the first to arrive at the fire. They observed the smoke coming from the VFW and reported to the dispatchers while quickly entering the front of the building. One of the first to arrive was Officer Savara. He entered the VFW and helped potential victims find their way through the smoke and heat to the exits. Officer Savara did so instinctively and continued to help victims being brought to the front of the property until Firefighters arrived.

The first arriving Villa Park Fire units immediately entered the smoke filled building to locate more inside the VFW and also attack the still burning gun range on the lower level. Fire Lieutenant Dave Trotter, Firefighter/Paramedic Dave Richardson, Firefighter/Paramedic Gonzales and Fire Deputy Chief Steve Stapleton went to the source of the fire and extinguished it. Firefighter/Paramedic Jeff Sparger took over the care and triage of those who were burned and affected by heavy smoke. As this was occurring more fire units were arriving.

Police Department personnel were in the command of Police Lieutenant Genaro Esposito. Lt. Esposito orchestrated the closing and rerouting of traffic on St. Charles Road. Other Police under his command secured the building and personnel who were inside the VFW at the time of the fire. At some point one of the police officers, Sgt. Tyson Johnson noticed a hand waving in the window near the side door of the VFW. Sgt. Johnson broke the window and pulled VFW Jr. Vice Commander Sid Bergh through the window to safety.

These are just a few of the many remarkable actions taken at the VFW by Fire and Police that were recognized on Monday night in Villa Park. A much more somber headline could easily have been written if each one of the heroes were not at the VFW. When the firefighters left the VFW they had a busy night answering more calls, their fire gear still dirty from debris. “We just go to the next call”, one fighter said a few days later.

In less than 12 hours a major public works project was completed, a new Fire Chief took the reins and dozens of life saving actions by police and firefighters were highlighted. Each one significant and noteworthy events. When all together they become remarkable.

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