Saving lives usually doesn’t allow time for celebrating holidays, but the firefighters at Engine Co. 18 — the real-life facility that doubles as Firehouse 51 on Chicago Fire — do their best to spread the cheer.
“We usually put a tree up and put some lights up,” says Firefighter Demetrius Moore. “We do a pretty good feast, you know, put the spread out, and everybody helps in the kitchen.”
Moore is a four-year CFD veteran who has been part of Engine Co. 18 since 2019. When the station gets a call, he travels to the emergency by way of an “Engine,” aka “the ones with the water.”
“We’re responsible for putting the fires out,” he explains.
The engine’s efforts are complemented by firefighters who work on a “Truck” — aka “the ones with the ladders.” According to Moore, these vehicles “are responsible for getting people out.”
Besides housing the Engine 18 team, the station at 1360 S. Blue Island Ave. is home to Ambulance Co. 65 and the CFD Deputy Chief. The 16,000 square foot masonry structure was built in 2008 to replace a facility at 1123 W. Roosevelt Rd., which was the oldest continuously used firehouse in Chicago at the time.
The crewmembers at Engine Co. 18 are part of the first company that formed after the Great Chicago Fire.
Moore thinks it’s “pretty cool” that the station appears in episodes of Chicago Fire. Before the pandemic shut it down to the public, he used to give tours to fans and reckons that five or more groups would drop by on nice summer days.
“One time I had a bus of Canadian tourists pull up,” he recalls. “They backed up onto the apron and 50 people came in.”
Besides Canucks, he says that a lot of Germans visit the station. “Usually I just show them around,” says Moore. “I tell them what’s actually here versus what’s here for the show.”
That includes explaining how Chicago Fire uses its own props, including trucks, plastic axes and fake halogen bars, which are multi-purpose tools often used to break down doors. There is also a wall dedicated to the show’s fictitious “Hook & Ladder 81” company.
But sometimes he gets to deal with the real thing. In addition to working with Mike Doherty, a Chicago Fire cast member and real life fire fighter, he once met Eamonn Walker, the actor who has played Battalion Chief Wallace Boden since 2012.
Walker is a London native who usually speaks with a British accent, but he remained in character as an American during that particular visit to Engine Co. 18. He played the role well enough to fool Moore.
“He came in and sat at the table and I just assumed he was a chief,” says Moore. “He was really nice, really cool and seemed knowledgeable. I was calling him Chief until he left, and someone was like, ‘you know that’s not an actual chief?’”
Moore says that “being the guy people are happy to see” is one of his favorite things about being a fire fighter. Although a perfect scenario would allow him to remain safe in the station, he adds that certain incidents seem to happen over the holidays.
“Every now and again somebody sets a Christmas tree on fire,” he says. “This Thanksgiving, we had someone light up a turkey because, I believe, they just forgot it was in the oven. All smoke, no fire.”
As a gift to Engine Co. 18 and all first responders in Chicago, Reel Chicago asks readers to play it extra safe at home during the holidays.