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Seconds matter in an emergency. Downtown business owners and residents of Mattoon learned that lesson on the evening of Thursday, March 21, as smoke and fire rose up into the sky from the Shores Jewelry building.

Fire crews from Mattoon led other crews in fighting the large blaze all night and into Friday morning. The jewelry store there has closed and will rebuild, as well as a hair salon and some residents of the building relocating. But no one was injured or killed, and the damage could have been much worse.

While their neighboring businesses on Broadway were affected by smoke, odor and water damage, the owners of Crites Title Company and other local businesses are grateful that firefighting crews were able to save their nearby stores from any extensive damage.

“I am very grateful that the fire department could contain that fire pretty much to one building,” Crites owner Barb Butts told this paper. “They knew that people have a livelihood on Broadway and they cared about that. I could tell that.”

These local heroes are putting it all on the line when disaster strikes, and they are doing it with less manpower than ever before. There are just 25 firefighters on the Mattoon Fire Department, down from 39 in 2001. But when it matters, these men and women come together and get the job done.

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That’s why it’s so disheartening to hear about the ongoing efforts by the Mattoon City Council to cut the fire department further. Continued cuts will jeopardize the ability of these dedicated firefighters to respond as effectively as they did for the Shores Jewelry fire. When seconds matter, firefighters can be there to help care for people with an advanced life-support ambulance service – but not when the city is standing in the way.

Mattoon ended the fire department ambulance service last summer, insisting two private companies could provide the aid themselves. Now, Taylorville-based Dunn’s Ambulance has left Mattoon. Leaving only one private company to cover all of the city’s emergency medical needs.

Even while their numbers were being reduced, the fire department’s crews kept people safer by providing ambulance support for the past eight years. When Jace MacDonald had a seizure while he and his mother were running errands, she took her son to Mattoon fire, where they cared for him as the seizure ran its course, monitoring his heart rate and ensuring he stabilized while his emergency medication was administered.

When seconds matter – when your home or business is on fire, or your family member has a medical emergency – you need trained professionals, to help right now. Mattoon firefighters have proven time and again they are committed to providing excellent emergency service. It’s time for the elected leaders in Mattoon to show they care about public safety and give the local fire department the manpower and ambulance response capability needed to ensure this community and its people feel safe.

-- Pat Devaney, president, AssociatedFire Fighters of Illinois, Springfield

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