Fatal heat wave 20 years ago changed Chicago's emergency response

Ah, yes, the Chicago heat wave of 1995.

I was there.

Has it really been 20 years?

My family was living in Kansas at  the time, but that was the week we swung through Chicago for a few days of vacation on our way up to visit extended family in Wisconsin.

It was my first-ever visit to Chicago, and I knew then that I wanted to live in the city, or at least be near it.

We stayed in a hotel on Lakeshore Drive. Walked Ontario Street, visiting my first Hard Rock Cafe and Ed Debevic's. Went to my first Cubs game. Walked Navy Pier on its grand re-opening weekend. And we visited the United Center, where I proudly stood for a picture in front of Michael Jordan's newly erected statue, and we set off an alarm when we tried to enter the arena through a not-so-public entrance.

As I recall, the heat didn't bother us. But it was prevalent.

Aside from all the firsts I experienced, some of my clearest memories of that trip are seeing the images and accounts of the heat wave on the news channels those nights.

There was that, and our drive through the neighborhood near the United Center where we encountered a group of black children playing at a fire hydrant. As my dad drove our minivan slowly past the children, it was him, I believe, who made a comment about the scene being an example of the Chicago culture. About a block later, one of us -- I don't remember who -- suggested we get a picture of it. So my mom, somewhat grudgingly, got out of the van and walked a few yards closer to the children to snap a photo of them playing. When she returned to the car, she muttered, "There, I got a picture of your culture."

It became a legendary moment in our family's vacation history.

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