At 20 minutes and 19 seconds, Melissa Connelly made history at the fourth Forest Park Firefighters’ 5K and Block Party on June 23 as the first woman to win the race. Connelly, 34, the wife of a Berwyn firefighter, beat out some 200 other runners who participated in the 3.1 mile race.

“I was super-excited about it when it happened,” said Lindsey Hankus, race organizer. “I think every fire department wants to give back in some way and be involved, and with this one it’s something that other fire departments can come and participate in and the community can come and participate in.” 

Through donations and race sign-ups, Hankus estimated the annual run raised about $4,000, which the fire department plans to donate to the American Cancer Society; the 100 Chicago Club, which provides support to families of first responders who have fallen in the line of duty; as well as local charities like the food pantry at the Howard Mohr Community Center, the All-School Picnic, the mayor’s annual toy drive and more. Along with running, attendees munched on tacos, sipped beer and listened to music by Midnight, a regular band at Groovin’ on the Grove. 

Once the race started, everything seemed to run smoothly, Hankus said, but the week before, everything that could go wrong, did. The company that was supposed to deliver branded cups and koozies delivered them to a house in California, rather than the Forest Park Fire Department. The department had to rush-order the items. On the day packet pickup started, Hankus’ car had a flat on her way to help people sign up. The day of the race, Hankus surveyed the course and found a huge section was underwater, thanks to heavy rainfall from the week before. Hankus ran back to The Grove, set up an internet connection and remapped the course. She said the village helped by quickly clearing that part of the course. 

Finally things started to fall in line. Volunteers from the police department arrived to help with logistics, checking race identification and shutting down traffic for a portion of the street. Firefighters — nearly all of them donating their time — manned the track. 

“We work together, we spend a lot of time together, and we still like hanging out together. It’s a good group of people and we hope people feel that,” Hankus said. “It’s important for the community to be around us, and know us and trust us because when we go on call with them, we like having a relationship with them, not just going and handling whatever the emergency is, letting them feel comfortable in letting us be there.”