McHENRY – Dan Lisi was cooking some breakfast sausages for the annual Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 188 Mother’s Day brunch when someone yelled “fire!”
With about 70 people already gathered inside the post building at 1304 Park St. in McHenry, Lisi and his band of experienced military veterans quickly took charge of the situation and safely evacuated the building.
While the people were unscathed, the building was not. The back of the building including the roof was completely destroyed while the front had significant damage after a blaze that took two and half hours for firefighters to fully extinguish.
“It’s tragic,” said Lisi, who serves as first vice commander of the post. “But it’s just a building. We’re veterans. We’ll survive and adapt.”
McHenry Township Fire Battalion Chief Joe Krueger said firefighters received a call at 11:41 a.m. Sunday for the fire and a Level 3 MABAS box alert was issued shortly after, bringing assistance from multiple departments in Lake and McHenry counties.
With heavy smoke coming through the roof, McHenry Township Fire Chief Tony Huemann said the first wave of firefighters made an aggressive move and ran hoses inside the building before Krueger deemed the situation too dangerous and pulled out the firefighters. Responders then fought the blaze defensively from the outside of the building, Huemann said.
During the lengthy fire fight, members of the post and those gathered for the brunch watched from the parking lot across the street and remained positive. Veterans even stood at attention when firefighters lowered the flag off the pole in front of the building.
Huemann said firefighters were aware of the importance of the contents in the building and were able to save flags, pictures and other items before pulling out from the building.
“We wanted to save as much as we could,” he said. “There are some invaluable and irreplaceable flags and pictures.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. A roofing company was working on the roof at the time of the fire, and Lisi said he could hear breakers popping. Representatives from the company on-scene declined to comment.
The organization, which has 140 veterans involved and has been in the building since 1980, will continue to meet in a temporary location, Lisi said.
Post Commander Cliff Schmidt said the heart of the post is in its membership and it would continue to serve the community and other veterans.
“My heart is broken at our loss, but the Polish Legion is not about a building,” he said. “The Polish Legion is about its members and its commitment to veterans. We will persevere.”
Those interest at helping can visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/329582746676 or by calling 815-900-1654.