It looked like a terrible accident, in the parking lot of Vineyard Christian Church in the 2400 block of Howard Street, but it was only a simulation exercise to train Evanston and Skokie firefighters to deal with the real thing.

Battalion Chief Bill Muno explained that the materials involved in a major vehicular accident pose significant challenges to the first-responders, who are coping with life and death in a battle of strength, endurance, and unknown hazards.

Note the mannikins used to represent the accident victims.

While the exercises held Thursday at the Vineyard took place in a relatively benign environment, on a sunny day with temperatures in the 70s, firefighters in real-life situations are often operating in extremely hostile environments, with snow, heat, traffic, and dangerous chemicals in a potentially dangerous mix.

While their first consideration is to extricate the wounded and get them on their way to hospitals to treat life-threatening conditions, the safety of the responders is always uppermost in their minds, Muno said.

“We’ve found another body.”

Automobile manufacturers, he added, have developed increasingly stronger metals to protect the occupants of vehicles, but in the aftermath of an accident, those sophisticated materials make it difficult for rescuers.

The chemical magnesium, for example, used in many auto parts, will explode when super-heated and comes into contact with water. Air bags that have not yet deployed will often expand without warning in the face of the rescuers, Muno said.

In addition to magnesium, firefighters have to deal with gasoline, oil, and even poisonous cyanide as they do their lifesaving job.

Evanston and Skokie firefighters collaborate in training and in actual incidents.

Noting the participation of Skokie firefighters in Thursday’s training exercise, Muno said the two departments often work together on major accidents in the adjoining communities.

“We have developed a good rapport with Skokie units,” he said.

The focus of the training was on size-up, taking command, calling for needed resources, setting up extrication teams, emergency medical services, teamwork, safety, and communications.

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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