It may have looked like a major emergency in downtown Evanston on Wednesday morning, with three fire trucks, two ambulances, and lots of firefighters in their turnout gear, in the 1700 block of Orrington Avenue.

But in reality, no one needed to be rescued, and no smoke was billowing from any structure. Rather, the whole thing was a training excercise, using the vacant-for-two-years Burger King, plus the empty three-story apartment building next door as field labs for firefighters.

The two buildings will be coming down soon, to make way for an 11-story “life sciences” office tower, catering to tenants in computer and medical research and development.

“The building owners were nice enough” to let the fire department use the vacant buildings for training over the past couple of weeks, Battalion Chief Dan Lynch told Evanston Now.

Having actual structures, Lynch said, “lets us replicate real world scenarios,” such as building entry and other rescue and firefighting techniques in the center of a busy downtown, with cars and people coming and going nearby.

One thing which was not included in these sessions was an actual fire. Lynch said special EPA permission is needed to use live flames in drills like these.

However, the value of having fire crews work their way into and through a building they may not be familiar with, particularly young fire fighters, Lynch noted, is especially useful.

“You can’t replicate these kinds of things in a training tower” he said.

Once the “life sciences” building goes up, the developer has said it could bring in as many as 650 employees downtown.

The proposed “life sciences” building at 1740 Orrington Ave.

Matt Rodgers, chair of the Land Use Commission, said such a project is “desperately needed.”

And for those in desperate need of a Whopper and fries, there’s still a Burger King in Evanston at Dempster and Dodge.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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