On any given Wednesday in Schaumburg, firefighters climb on trucks, uncoil hoses, slide down fire poles and make dispatch calls. But they aren't your average firefighters heading off for a brave rescue. These pint-sized firemen-and women-are having a blast at FireZone, a firehouse-themed play place.
FireZone, nestled in a nondescript industrial park in Schaumburg, features a full-size fire truck kids can "drive," a real ambulance to explore, and a house where they can attempt a smoky rescue. Kids also enjoy the dispatch center with phones and lots of buttons to press, plus a real fire pole and hydrant. And, of course, there are tyke-sized fire jackets so they can really look the part.
The facility is decorated with firefighting memorabilia from local companies, adding to the environment. On good weather days, kids will want to explore the real fire trucks parked outside, which also makes for an excellent photo op.
Inside, they're adding a pretend fire house-complete with recliners for tired firefighters to relax-and other fun elements like a ball pit in the coming months. There also are several tables so parents can have a seat while their kids burn off some energy.
The most unique aspect of FireZone is the presence of real firefighters who interact with the kids. I was impressed by one fireman's natural rapport with a large, excitable audience of little ones as he explained the different elements of a firefighter's uniform and put them on so kids wouldn't be afraid. Each session includes a "lesson" on fire safety that makes it different from your average indoor play place.
In addition to birthday parties and field trips, FireZone now offers weekly drop-in play (10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays) and occasional weekend hours, as well as bimonthly KidVentures, hour-and-a-half playtimes that include a craft project or snack.
During our visit, some kids spent a lot of time painstakingly decorating a badge, while others, like my nephew-who had a fireman-themed birthday party this year-were more interested in running, climbing and generally saving the day.
But they all seemed to be having the time of their lives as they experienced one of childhood's favorite professions in person.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.