Village of Orland Park village officials are at odds with the Orland Fire District over heroin use among schoolchildren.
In a July 15 presentation to the public, the fire district shared its experiences dealing with heroin use in Orland Park — and fire officials said school and village officials are refusing to acknowledge the problem.
"We are at war and we do not take it lightly and we’ll do whatever we have to to save our kids," Orland Fire Protection District Chief Ken Brucki told CBS News, citing at least six heroin deaths last year and 60 overdose ambulance calls.
A video of the full presentation is included with this article.
Orland Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Michael Schofield said school officials would not let paramedics and rescue workers into the schools to talk to students and parents about the problem.
"When heroin started coming into this area in about 2009, people out here had a difficult time believing it," Schofield said, as quoted in The Regional newspaper. "The perception was that it was an inner city problem—kind of what I saw when I was a paramedic in Chicago in the ‘80s. It was a 'skid row' thing, a 50-year-old guy with a needle in his arm.
"So people out here in Homer and Orland would ask in disbelief, 'How can that be out here, in an affluent area?' But it was, and it is," he said. "We had such a hard time getting the word out. ... We tried getting into high schools and talk about heroin, and we basically got the door slammed in our face."
After finally getting into Sandburg High School, teachers there suggested the message needed to be taken to grade schoolers to have the greatest impact, according to Schofield, but the public school districts in the Orland area and one Catholic school would not allow the fire district talk about heroin abuse with grade schoolers.
Mayor Dan McLaughlin, in a statement issued Friday, took issue with the fire district officials, saying their statistics and characterization of village and police department actions in its July 15 presentation is "inaccurate and deeply misleading."
"As public officials, we have a special responsibility to ensure that residents receive exact and correct information – especially when it comes to the safety of their children," McLaughlin said in the statement. "Sadly, this was not the case here. The fire district portrayed our village and our police department as being unresponsive to this critical issue and nothing could be further from the truth."
In addition to discussing heroin use among high schoolers with too much money and free time on their hands, fire district personnel implied there is a drug and heroin problem in Orland Park elementary schools.
Janet Stutz, superintendent of Orland School District 135, challenged the statements.
“I’m quite perplexed by claims that fire protection district staff have not been allowed to make presentations to our students. They have attended our safety meetings. We’ve collaborated with them on CPR training and other fire prevention and protection programs and District 135 has a history of participating in fire district sponsored educational workshops regarding drugs and keeping children off drugs,” she said in the statement released by the village.
"I always viewed our partnership as very strong and effective. In addition, the implication that there is a drug epidemic in District 135 schools is simply not true. I do not know where any of this came from."
Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy agreed with the mayor and superintendent.
"I have to express my disappointment that the police department was never notified about this meeting nor were we asked to participate," McCarthy said. "If we were, we would have corrected the misleading and erroneous information then and there."
McCarthy said the fire district's allegations are "careless and a disservice to parents and the entire community."
"We’ve been very active in our schools and they have been particularly cooperative," McCarthy said. "Our department has produced a three-part round table video series about heroin which is available to parents through the village’s You Tube channel and on the village’s web site. Our DARE Program, that we started in 1987, and the subsequent DARE Booster Program have been very effective according to school officials and parents."
The Orland Fire District presentation includes Kendall Coyne, an Olympic silver medalist in hockey; Michael Schofield, a Denver Broncos rookie lineman and the battalion chief's son; Patrick Brucki, a Sandburg High athlete and son of the fire chief; as well as Brian Kirk, the father of a teen who died of a heroin overdose, and Tami O'Brien, the mother of a Chicago police officer who killed two teen-agers in a Tinley Park drunken driving crash on 159th Street in 2005.
PATCH COVERAGE OF ORLAND'S HEROIN STORIES
» Orland Park Police Heroin Video
» Dad Shares Experience of Son's Heroin Death
» District 230 Appeals to Parents as Heroin Use Rises