RANTOUL — The Rantoul Fire Department is in the process of implementing a new training program called “Target Solution.”

It’s an online program in which all firefighters receive assignments online and work on modules for what they are going to train on. They have a month to work on the module. They then take a test, and the following Wednesday practice the physical part of what they have done online.

Fire Department Capt. Rich Carr discussed the program at a recent meeting of the Rantoul Exchange Club, which annually honors local firefighters for Fire Prevention Week.

Carr said the training method, which is for volunteers who are already part of the department, has been helpful.

He said four firefighters have joined the department, which will bring the total to 33 — Derek Burns, Taylor Shannon, Cory Haltiwanger and Donald Wieczorek. The four will start firefighter basic training in January.

They will train during the year-long program for two nights a week and one Saturday a month.

“It’s quite a commitment for these firefighters to get on,” Carr said. “It’s a lot of training. This training that they go through is required by the state and the village of Rantoul.”

In addition to passing the training, to be a firefighter, a prospective firefighter must be at least 21 years of age and pass a physical abilities test and a written test.

Firefighters are considered part-time employees of the village. A background check is conducted.

Carr said it is important that the department get up to its full complement of 33 firefighters because many of them work out of town and aren’t available for daytime calls. Some also work night shifts.

The lack of manpower available during the day stretches the firefighters pretty thin when they present fire-prevention programs at local schools. It generally takes about 13 firefighters to do the programs. Carr said the department is considering buying a blowup screen with computer to project on “so just a couple of guys can go to a school and do a presentation.”

He said the department is working with Rantoul Township High School to update the fire-prevention program, which hasn’t changed in at least 25 years.

“I think the high school kids will give us a real opportunity to get into the minds of what the younger kids are thinking these days,” Carr said. “Make it more interactive and computer-based.”

Carr said there are some officers in the department who are considering retirement.

Finding volunteers can be difficult, he said.

“People just don’t want to volunteer like before,” Carr said. “There is so much more pressure on people. It really does take a special kind of person to want to do this. You’re asking them to put their lives on the line.”

Carr said the firefighters are proud of their community and glad to serve. He said they couldn’t do it without the support of their spouses, who have “to deal with all the odd hours, missed dinners and (missed) school events.”

In the past year the department has responded to four structure fires, 11 vehicle fires, 35 vehicle accidents, 83 false alarms and 47 carbon monoxide calls, for a total as of the end of the month of 333 calls. The average number of calls a year is 400.

Damages have totaled about $212,000 so far, including a house fire on Kenneth Drive that did $90,000 damage, a house fire on North Maplewood Drive ($110,000), a car fire on Broadmeadow ($1,000) and a vehicle accident on Interstate 57 ($10,000).

During the past three years, the department has bought a Pierce pumper and rescue truck that pumps 1,250 gallons a minute (price tag $564,000) and a 2016 Pierce tanker that holds 3,000 gallons of water ($300,000).

Carr said the department is also looking to replace its 1985 ladder truck. That will cost about $1.2 million.

He said Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer and Fire Chief Ken Waters have been talking about finding the dollars to buy the ladder truck. He said Fire Capt. Chad Smith has also been involved.

“I do know if things progress with the sports complex and (additional) hotels that our 75-foot ladder we have now will not make the grade. It’s going to be important to get the new one,” Carr said.

In addition to giving fire-prevention programs in elementary schools, the department took part in the RTHS mock crash, National Night Out and has delivered its smokehouse to area communities.

The Exchange Club presented the department with a check for $1,000.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com