The 5-11 Club is a Chicago organization dedicated to aiding members of the Chicago Fire Department. The group has been active for over fifty years, providing canteen service at extra alarm blazes in Chicago. The group is entirely volunteer-run, and members are asked to pay dues to support the canteen operations.
The group gets its name from the system used to classify the severity of fires. When the Chicago Fire Department gets a call, it is classified in one of four ways. If someone calls 9-1-1 and reports a fire, a Still Alarm is sounded. Initially, 2 engines, 2 trucks, and a Battalion Chief are sent. If a second source (either another 9-1-1 caller, or the firefighters who arrive on scene) can confirm the fire, additional equipment is sent. In the case of a Still Alarm at a high rise, the response is doubled, EMS (Emergency Medical Services, which includes both ambulances and EMS Field Officers) is added automatically. A Still and Box Alarm is a step up from a Still Alarm, and is usually called in by a firefighter or command officer on scene. Occasionally, a Still and Box alarm will be automatically activated when a call is received, but this tends to happen only when there is a report of a trapped civilian, a multiple structure fire, a large commercial fire, or some major incident (building collapse or train derailment, for example). Finally, a Box Alarm is initiated when a fire alarm is pulled in a building whose fire alarm system is wired to the Office of Fire Alarms (movie theaters, nursing homes, schools, and other public places). These are often prank or accidental calls, and only a small initial response is sent. If it turns out that there is a working fire, the situation is upgraded to a Still and Box Alarm.
After an initial alarm is sounded, extra equipment is sometimes needed. In Chicago, the first "extra alarm" is a 2-11, a call for an additional 4 engines, 2 trucks, 2 Battalion Chiefs, media affairs representatives, and one of each of the following: tower ladder, District Chief, a truck with replacement breathing equipment. If more assistance is needed, a 3-11 alarm is sounded, bringing in 4 more engines, as well as an Assistant Deputy or Deputy Commissioner. A 4-11 alarm brings in yet another 4 engines, along with the City's Fire Commissioner. The final extra alarm is a 5-11 alarm, which calls for 4 more engines. Any blaze that requires something beyond the 16 extra engines called in so far is called a 5-11 plus X specials. Though the 5-11 Club is named for the highest classified extra alarm, the group actually responds sooner. The group responds to all 3-11 alarm fires in Chicago, and can respond to 2-11 and Still and Box Alarm fires, depending on things like weather conditions and the location of the blaze.
When a 3-11 Alarm is sounded, the volunteers of the 5-11 Club are notified via a pager system, and report to the firehouse of Engine 106, where the 5-11 Club's Support Service Unit is stored. They then pack the unit with food and beverages (both hot and cold), and drive to the location of the blaze. Once on scene, they begin a canteen service, providing food and beverages to police officers, fire fighters, and civilians displaced by the blaze, all free of charge. In addition, the Support Service Unit is brought to large fire department gatherings like training drills, to funerals for firefighters killed in the line of duty, and to the annual Memorial Service for those killed in the line of duty.
Members of the 5-11 Club also have duties outside of operation of canteen services. Many (if not all) of the clubs members are "fire buffs"--people who take an interest in all things related to fires. As a result, the club and its members own a number of pieces of antique fire apparatus. The club is responsible for operating and maintaining those pieces of equipment, and also organizes an annual muster of equipment (both current and antique) held at the Chicago Fire Department's training academy. Members of the 5-11 Club also deliver fruit baskets to firefighters who are severely injured in the line of duty. Finally, the 5-11 Club is responsible for giving out the Firefighter and Paramedic of the Year awards.
The club has an open application process, and there are various levels of membership. Regular Members must live in the Chicago metropolitan area (as they need to be able to respond to extra alarm blazes), pay $40 in annual dues, and must satisfy membership requirements. Their duties in the club are to staff the Support Service Unit and maintain antique equipment. They are the only members afforded the privilege of voting at Club meetings, and receive annual reports, the Marshall Line (the club's newsletter), minutes of meetings, and other information the club decides to mail. Associate Membership is mainly for persons affiliated with Fire Departments or support groups in other cities. These members pay $20 a year, and receive all of the same mailings the Regular Members do. Finally, Canteen Benefactor Members are those who wish that their dues go only towards supporting canteen service. Levels of Benefactor Membership vary from $15 to $500, and all of these members receive the Marshall Line and the Annual Report. Benefactors at the second-highest and highest levels receive one and four tickets respectively to the Club's annual awards ceremony. The 5-11 Club is a 510(c)(3) charitable organization, meaning all dues and donations are tax-deductible.
Finally, the Club's website, located at http://www.5-11club.org/5-11_Club/, provides a wealth of information about the Chicago Fire Department, as well as pictures of many extra-alarm blazes.