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Burke defends Rahm's decision to enlist firefighters in school closings safe passage

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Alderman Ed Burke. Sun-Times files

The City Council's most powerful aldermen on Wednesday defended Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to enlist Chicago firefighters in the effort to guarantee the safety of 30,000 students displaced by school closings.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, said he has long encouraged a "more mobile deployment" of the Chicago Fire Department's equipment and personnel.

"I don't see why they can't be out and be the further eyes and ears of the government," Burke said Wednesday. "I don't think anybody is suggesting they're gonna be armed and involved like police officers. Their role will be more expanding the city presence."

The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 has questioned Emanuel's decision to ask firefighters to provide a "visible presence" for the first three weeks of school on Safe Passage routes to be used by students who now attend the 53 elementary schools and one high school program targeted for closing.

Union president Tom Ryan has raised concerns about the safety of his members "should a violent or armed confrontation erupt" during the unprecedented three weeks of special duty. Ryan has argued that firefighters are "not equipped or trained" to handle such a confrontation.

Emanuel's reputation--and, perhaps, his political future--is riding on his ability to deliver on his promise to safeguard the 30,000 impacted students and improve their new schools. That's why the largest public school consolidation in the nation's history is an all-hands-on-deck affair at City Hall.

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