"We've got your back," is the motto of Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 24, according to Division 24 President and Glenwood Fire Chief Kevin Welsh. With the completion of the organization's headquarters and equipment garage at 17555 Ashland Ave. in Homewood, Division 24 emergency response teams will be better able to do just that, he said.
MABAS Division 24 hosted a grand opening event Friday to mark the completion of the facility, which includes an office building the organization purchased plus the new garage addition.
The facility is the first in the state to be owned and operated by a MABAS division, according to Welsh.
"This day represents the culmination of over five years planning," he said.
The need for the building became apparent in the years following the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Welsh said money became available to add resources to emergency response agencies, but equipment was placed in various communities, making training, coordination and response difficult.
The solution was to find a facility that could serve as a central storage, maintenance and training center.
"It is no secret that the southland faces unique challenges in providing emergency services with shrinking dollars and budget cuts," Welsh said. "We have banded together to assure continuous service with minimal impact on all of our member agencies."
The organization scouted the South Suburbs for locations, held numerous fundraisers and its members pitched in with construction, he said.
He cited one memorable occasion, Christmas Eve 2014, when volunteers put in "12 hours of work in three hours."
Construction began at the end of October 2014, was held up by a rough winter, and resumed in March 2015.
A number of retired firefighters were on hand, including Ron Adams, Marvin Austin and Norm Kranz of Homewood Fire Department. They were impressed with the facility and the equipment on display.
"It's great. The equipment they have is top of the line," Adams said.
The mission of MABAS is to cooperate in providing education, training, fire prevention, public education, emergency medical services and specialty services to member communities. Division 24 includes specialty response teams for fire investigation, hazardous materials, dive rescue and technical rescue.
The organization provides services to 34 communities with a total population of about 385,000 spread over 100 square miles. Welsh said Division 24 is the second largest and most active MABAS unit in the state next to Chicago's division.
Support for Division 24 comes from the approximately $3,000 fee paid by each member community and from fundraisers sponsored by the organization, Welsh said.
"If each town would have to provide these services on its own dime, the cost would be astronomical," he said.
Welsh put in a plug for the next fundraiser, a golf outing Friday, Sept. 11, at Lincoln Oaks Golf Course in Crete. A 9/11 memorial service will precede the golf event.
A number of officials from member villages were there to mark the occasion, including Mayor Richard Hofeld, Trustee Jay Heiferman, Village Manager Jim Marino, Assistant Village Manager Mike Marzal, Public Works Director John Schaefer, Finance Director Dennis Bubenik of Homewood; Mayor Paul Braun and Village Manager Bridget Wachtel of Flossmoor; U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly; state Sen. Napolean Harris; and state Rep. Will Davis.
In addition to Homewood, Flossmoor and Glenwood, Division 24 includes fire departments from Burnham, Calumet City, Country Club Hills, Dolton, East Hazel Crest, Harvey, Hazel Crest, Lansing, Lynwood, Markham, Munster, Ind., Oak Forest, Phoenix, Riverdale, South Holland, Thornton and Tinley Park.
Photos by Eric Crump/HF Chronicle.