Rock Falls police and fire departments collaborate to educate seniors

Deputy Chief Ken Wolf has been named fire chief to the Rock Falls Fire Department.

ROCK FALLS – A year and a half ago, Marge Sadowski, a senior Rock Falls resident, reported her phone had been stolen just three weeks after buying it. She went through the process of filing a complaint and bringing the case to court.

The accused failed to appear in court, she said. At that point, there was nothing that could be done for Sadowski.

“I said no, what I went through all these months with not having a phone then I had to buy a phone. ... I won’t go into it more, but it affected me emotionally, physically and financially,” Sadowski said.

It was then that Sadowski started her program S.M.A.A.R.T., Seniors Made Aware and Rightly Treated, coordinating with law enforcement and financial professionals to do speaking presentations targeting older adults.

Outreach and awareness programs were not foreign to Sadowski, who’s spent most of her life volunteering for organizations to help others.

“I’m very young, sort of, I’m 85. I do a lot, when you know you can help even one person it’s well worth the hours.”

—  Marge Sadowski, Rock Falls resident, crime-fighting volunteer

Today, she is the secretary/treasurer for Royal Neighbors of America, Chapter 30. She volunteers at the Whiteside County Senior Center hosting a game night, sets up the dining room for Golden Meals and acts as historian. She drives a lot of people, who can no longer drive themselves, to the grocery store or for other errands they may need to run.

“That covers about a third of what I do and am,” Sadowski said.

She does a lot, and all of it is strictly volunteer.

“I’m very young, sort of, I’m 85. I do a lot, when you know you can help even one person it’s well worth the hours,” Sadowski said.

The Whiteside County Senior Center “adopted” Sadowski’s S.M.A.A.R.T. program. All presentations done by the program are now permanently there.

The next event will go over safety tips for seniors and will begin at 11 a.m. May 15 at the center. Detective Sgt. Doug Wolber from the Rock Falls Police Department; Brandon Bellows, a client relations consultant at US Bank; and Deputy Chief Kyle Sommers, from the Rock Falls Fire Department, are scheduled to present.

The joint presentation is in its second year. The first was in August 2023 at the Rock Falls Community Building. Wolber and Bellows gave a talk along with Ken Wolf, now chief of the Rock Falls Fire Department.

Wolber and Bellows will discuss raising awareness of email or phone scams and what to watch out for.

Most older adults are not very “tech savvy.” It can be confusing for them when someone calls and says they won $20,000 all they have to do is send $2,000 to claim their reward, Wolber said.

Online scams became a topic of discussion when the Rock Falls Police Department recognized the high number of older residents coming in and reporting the issue.

“It was obviously becoming an issue in our area ... if we had this many that were actually reaching out to us, I couldn’t imagine how many weren’t,” Wolber said.

Two of the biggest issues seniors face are feeling embarrassed to tell someone they were a victim of a scam and not being aware of how much damage can be done to them through a simple phone call or email, Sadowski said.

“The point is to let them know it’s not your fault. ... They’re the crooks and you got to call the police,” Sadowski said.

For the second half of the event, Sommers will discuss fire safety and fall protection in the home. He will cover topics such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, kitchen safety and what to do when an emergency happens at home.

The biggest fire safety mistake people make at home is not making sure their smoke alarms are working, Wolf said.

The Rock Falls Fire Department has an ongoing program through the State Fire Marshal’s Office called Be Alarmed. Once a week a duty crew will make appointments to visit residences to go over safety topics, check all existing smoke alarms and install new alarms if needed, Wolf said.

The presentation in 2023 was the first time in a while that the fire and police departments in Rock Falls have collaborated on a community event, “but it’s something that we will continue,” Wolf said.

The Whiteside County Senior Center is located at 1207 W. Ninth St. in Sterling.

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Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.