Westmont fire chief responds to Coal City disaster

By Joan Rykal | For The Bugle

In most circumstances, a group of men wielding chainsaws would draw some concern. But to the residents of Coal City, the “Chainsaw Gang” that roamed the streets of their tornado-ravaged town June 27 was a welcome sight.

The Chainsaw Gang was part of Trinity Lutheran Church’s disaster team, which went down to provide assistance and support to the city.

Westmont Fire Chief David Weiss, who is a member of the Lisle church, was part of that team.

“It is so humbling to be able to assist these people who were so appreciative of our efforts,” he said.

Weiss was also part of a team of 39 local firefighters who were dispatched as part of a mutual aid system in the early morning hours of June 24, following the tornado’s touchdown late the previous evening.

Making the aid effort more personal is the fact that Coal City’s Fire Chief Jim Sheldon has been a good friend of Weiss’ for more than 15 years. Sheldon’s was one of more than 800 homes damaged or destroyed.

“We needed to help a brother out,” Weiss said.

The church team went down the Saturday following the tornado. It was manned with industrial sized grills and plenty of food and supplies to feed volunteers assisting with cleanup of the town. “My wife and I started with the cooking, but when I saw the chainsaw team come out, I knew I could be helpful there,” the Westmont fire chief said. “I had training on how to use all that equipment.”

The team cut up downed trees and dragged fallen limbs and branches to the roadside in order to make clean-up quicker. Still, Weiss said the amount of damage was overwhelming.

“Almost every home had people struggling with clean-up,” he added. “They were glad to see us coming. We told them ‘we’ve got the right equipment; let us do this.’”

The Chainsaw Gang spent eight hours helping people clear trees, limbs and branches that had fallen onto their property and structures.

“One elderly couple had about 15 trees down and another family had a tree over the top of their porch and was struggling to move it,” Weiss recalled. “We went over and had it removed in about 15 minutes.”

But despite the assistance from groups such as Trinity Lutheran and other volunteers, the veteran first responder said there is more work to do.

“They still need a lot of help,” he said. “There is still a lot of damage.”

Weiss said he and his wife now plan to be part of the church’s disaster recovery team.

Individuals who would like to donate to the relief effort can visit the Grundy County Community Foundation’s website at www.cfgrundycounty.com. For more information, call Coal City’s call center at 815-518-3047.

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