Homewood has a long history of families in public service. The Elashiks' three generations of service at the Homewood Fire Department are a perfect example.
John Elashik Sr. was a paid-on-call member for 25 years before his retirement as assistant chief in 1996. He was followed onto the force by his son, Capt. John Elashik Jr. who has served full time since 2004. Their grandson and nephew, Andrew Sline, joined the fire department in July as a firefighter/EMT.
You could say firefighting is in their blood. John Sr.’s interest is traced back to his father who was the chief of the Homewood Acres Fire Department starting in 1944. He remembers going to the firehouse with his dad, and he volunteered there as a teenager.
John Sr. started as a paid-on-call firefighter in Homewood in 1971 When he wasn’t working his day job as a crane operator, he would be on call. As the Homewood Fire Department transitioned to a part-time staff, John Sr. said he would be on call between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
His involvement with the fire department influenced his son, John Jr., who started as a cadet as a 16-year-old student at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He went to Eastern Kentucky University and earned a degree in fire safety.
“Just being around the culture of the fire house growing up, I think that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. After college, Elashik worked full time for the Lexington Fire Department in Lexington, Kentucky, from 2001-2003. He started full time at the Homewood Fire Department in January 2004.
Andrew remembers as a youngster visiting his uncle in Lexington and getting a chance to check out the equipment and sit in the trucks. He’d be at every Homewood Fire Department open house, and as a teenager he started hanging out at the firehouse.
The 2018 graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School hired on as a firefighter/emergency medical technician and will be starting paramedic training in January. He plans to return to school for a bachelor’s degree in fire safety.
John Sr. said much has changed since his earliest days in firefighting. The technology of the firefighting equipment, the special training available for both firefighters and paramedics, and the operation of the firehouse are all improvements he can recognize.
John Jr. said today Homewood has a fire engine, a ladder truck, and two ambulances. The Homewood Fire Department handles about 4,600 calls annually. The majority of those are ambulance calls. A captain, lieutenant and four firefighter/EMT/paramedics are on duty for every 24-hour shift.
Fortunately, major fires are rare, but the Homewood Fire Department has always been prepared. John Sr. remembers being on the Washington Park Racetrack call in February 1977.
“It wasn’t a fire, it was a conflagration,” he said. The 900-foot grandstand that stood several stories tall went up as high winds spread the fire and low water pressure limited firefighters in their efforts. The site was redeveloped into Washington Park Plaza, part of Homewood’s major shopping area on Halsted Street.
John Jr. was in town for the Chuck’s House of Magic fire Halloween night in 2004. The building at the southeast corner of Dixie and 183rd Street was a total loss. The fire burned for a while because of all the paper, costumes and other items in the building. He said several helium tanks exploded, but fortunately no one was in the building at the time.
The four-alarm fire brought out support from surrounding communities, but John Jr. said they used a “surround and drown” strategy moving away from the structure and continuously pouring water until the fire was out.