Aurora Beacon News - November 11, 2005

A big thanks over 50,000 watts
Aurora broadcast: Spike O'Dell thanks firefighters for efforts to save house
By Andre Salles, Staff Writer

AURORA — Spike O'Dell says he owes a debt of gratitude to the Aurora Fire Department even though firefighters could not save his house during a blaze nearly five months ago.

O'Dell said the fire, which cost him his home and killed his dog, could have been worse. "I wanted to say thanks for how well they responded," the WGN-AM 720 radio personality said of his broadcast Thursday in Aurora. "It could have been the whole block that burned. Even afterwards, when someone loses everything, you don't know how to feel. They were professional, sensitive and caring, and I'm glad it was these guys."

O'Dell, his co-hosts and his team of producers set up shop Thursday in the common area of Fire Station No. 9 on Diehl Road, transforming it from fire station to radio station, and taking every opportunity to praise the men and women of the fire department.

During his show, O'Dell interviewed Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, Aurora Regional Fire Museum Curator David Lewis, and recently appointed Fire Chief Tim Oelker. Each took to the microphone in his own way.

"Spike makes it look easy," Oelker laughed. "I told him, I would rather be on a nozzle, crawling down a smoky hallway, than in front of that microphone."

Still, Oelker was happy for the attention paid to the fire department.

"Firefighters shun recognition," he said. "We're not looking for a pat on the back, but when the recognition comes, we really appreciate it."

Weisner is more comfortable with public attention, but he says that even he felt a twinge of stage fright before sitting in the hot seat.

"We were talking beforehand, and Spike said that he wasn't used to the crowds," Weisner said. "I'm much more uncomfortable with the invisible millions on the other side of the microphone."

Weisner had nothing but praise for O'Dell and his decision to broadcast from the fire station.

"That is extremely gracious," he said, "but that's just Spike; that's the way he is."

On vacation
O'Dell was in Alaska when his house burned down June 23, the first day of his vacation. His producers called to tell him that his home, in the Stonebridge subdivision on Aurora's far East side, had been lost. His dog, Otis, a regular subject on his morning radio show, also perished in the fire.

"I thought they were kidding me," O'Dell said of the phone call.

Lieutenant Greg Mewmaw was the incident commander during the fire. It was later discovered that lit charcoal had slipped through the cracks of a grill and ignited the deck, and though the firefighters were unsuccessful in saving the house, they did manage to salvage many valuable items.

"This is a great gesture," Mewmaw said of the Aurora broadcast. "We were taken aback. But we want people to know that it doesn't matter if you're a Spike O'Dell or someone in low-income housing; we feel for everyone. We care about the people of Aurora."

O'Dell's appearance brought dozens of local fans to Station No. 9, many of whom have been listening to his program since he started in 1987. The common room was packed with people, all of whom cheered and clapped, and many of whom shouted declarations of love at the popular host.

One of the show's features was a chili cook-off, judged by firefighters Kevin Noble, Gary Krienitz and Tim Bradley. Five contestants competed, but the big winner was David Lavine, of Aurora, whose recipe included small amounts of chocolate and cinnamon. Lavine's prize was a ticket on ATA Airlines to any destination he chooses.

"I don't know where I want to go yet," Lavine said, laughing. "I really didn't expect to win."

Aurora is home
O'Dell says he considers Aurora his home, and he plans to rebuild his house.

"We're rebuilding now," he said. "I love the neighborhood and the neighbors. We're going to build pretty much the same house we had before."

As 9 a.m. rolled around, O'Dell wrapped up his show with some final words of praise for Aurora and its fire department.

"Aurora's a great city, and we thank them for their hospitality," he said on the air. "And we pay respect to these firefighters. It takes special people to do that, and we thank them."


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