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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Pump station, drop shafts offer emergency response units an ideal training site

In the realm of emergency response training, accessing treacherous environments like skyscrapers and abandoned elevator shafts can pose significant challenges. However, in its role as a government utility dedicated to water quality and flood mitigation, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s (MWRD’s) Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) emerges as an invaluable training terrain for specialized units.

Special Unit Rescue team repels down a shaft the Mainstream Pumping Station

The MWRD recently welcomed dozens of acrobatic firefighters from different departments that are part of the Technical Rescue Team made up of special units from the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) from Divisions 10 and 21. These divisions, representing fire departments ranging from Westmont to Forest View and Bedford Park to Oak Lawn, rappelled down a TARP drop shaft at the MWRD’s Mainstream Pumping Station in Hodgkins. The Pleasantview Fire Protection District coordinated the training. 

The drop shaft, which is used to ventilate the Deep Tunnel, also allows the MWRD to move equipment down by crane to the tunnel system 300 feet below ground.

“These trainings remind us of the dangerous conditions that our firefighters and other emergency responders are thrust into at a moment’s notice,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “We were fortunate to host dozens of responders in training and give them a unique site to put their brave skills to the test.” 

The MWRD’s Mainstream Pumping Station in Hodgkins is one of three stations in the TARP system designed to capture combined sewer overflows from an area of 360 square miles. TARP provides an outlet for floodwaters and protects waterways and Lake Michigan from pollution caused by combined sewer overflows. Because of TARP, flooding has been mitigated and area water quality is thriving. Since the tunnels went in service in the mid-1980s, the MWRD estimates it has captured over 1 trillion gallons of combined stormwater and sewage that otherwise would have polluted local waterways and flooded basements and streets.

Special Unit Rescue team repels down a shaft the Mainstream Pumping Station

The Mainstream Pumping Station is an integral part of these important operations. It serves both the Mainstream Tunnel System (40.5 miles long) and Des Plaines Tunnel System (25.6 miles). Both tunnel systems are located between 50 and 300 feet underground. Sewage and stormwater entering the tunnels through drop shafts from sewers are carried to the Mainstream station, where the flow is pumped to the MWRD’s Stickney Water Reclamation Plant for treatment. 

“By welcoming emergency responders inside our facilities for training exercises, we are giving them an opportunity to practice for difficult circumstances and also educating ourselves on how to be prepared for emergency situations in large facilities,” said MWRD Commissioner Daniel Pogorzelski. “Thank you to the Pleasantview Fire Protection District and the special units from MABAS Divisions 10 and 21 for their skill, sacrifice and support.”

Press Release

Established in 1889, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois.


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