LINCOLN PARK — For his 71st outing as an "Undercover Congressman," U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley returned Monday to the Chicago Fire Department after a previous stint working on the NBC's "Chicago Fire."
"You should've told us you're a veteran," said one firefighter.
Quigley had to inform them that he operated a boom microphone during the "Chicago Fire" shoot he worked on, and the most dangerous part of the job was making sure not to conk one of the stars on the head.
The Chicago Democrat didn't get a whole lot closer to the action in his visit to the firehouse on Armitage, although he did have a brief job washing station-house windows interrupted by an asthma attack at a clinic around the corner on North Avenue from the station, at Armitage and Larrabee Street. After tagging along on that call, Quigley returned to washing windows.
"We're going to show him what we do," said Capt. Ronald Kitowski. "That's what he's here for."
"You guys have a dog?" Quigley said on arrival.
"No, we don't got a dog here," Kitowski said.
According to Kitowski, the station is known as the Lincoln Park Firehouse, with the motto: "First due at the zoo," Lincoln Park Zoo of course. Neighborhood locals, however, call it the Armitage firehouse.
After washing windows, Quigley got down to business dressed in the full firefighter outfit and gear, including oxygen tank — estimated at 100 pounds in its entirety.
"I play hockey two times a week," the 58-year-old Quigley said. "That stuff's pretty heavy. This is like a whole other area."
At that point, Quigley was assigned to open up the corner fire hydrant and flush out the hoses on an old fire truck still in use at the station — a daily chore. He was backed up by Kitowski to make sure he didn't get knocked into a brick wall while operating the hose.
"What do you eat?" Quigley said, that task completed.
"It all depends on what the cook has a taste for," Kitowski said. On Monday, for lunch, it was soup and cold cuts.
"Why is there no dog?" Quigley said.
"We had a dog. It died. We never got another," Kitowski said.
There's a tombstone for Caesar, who died in 1980, in the station garden plot out front.
Yet they also talked serious issues over lunch.
"My motto is everybody comes home alive," Kitowski said. "Team is everything."
Quigley agreed and said he was playing the role of getting the Chicago Fire Department all the federal funding he can, adding that that sort of horse trading only comes when the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives is ready to deal on a budget.
"It's a great listening device. I learn a great deal," Quigley said of his "Undercover Congressman" visits, based on the reality TV show "Undercover Boss."
"It also teaches me about what we need," Quigley said. "You can see from some of these trucks, they're a little aging.
"It's days like this, when you're embedded like this, that you really get to understand how difficult the job is, the complexity of the job, the risk of the job and just how important it is to have good equipment," he added, as with a heat-sensing camera Kitowski had demonstrated, a device essential in finding anyone who might be hiding or passed out in a smoke-filled building, as well as the source of a fire or a hidden hot spot.
"As an appropriator, I've got to take that back and do the best job I can," Quigley said.
And maybe figure out how to get the government to pay for another firehouse dog.
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