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Collections Cameo, April 2014

Fire Helmet, Lake Forest Volunteer Fire Department

This fire helmet has withstood the test of time – 100 years’ worth! It was worn in the 1910s by John E. Fitzgerald, the captain of the Lake Forest Volunteer Fire Department. Made by Cairns & Brother of reinforced black leather, the helmet has a typical “traditional” design, dome-shaped with a front shield and brim rolling to a long back tail (shaped to keep water from running down firefighters’ necks).

It is evident that this fire helmet has seen quite a bit of wear and tear: the front shield is worn away at the top, and the brass eagle that usually graces the top of the helmet and secures its front piece is missing. The front shield says “Lake Forest FD.” Attached at the center is a metal badge, with fire emblems (ladder, helmet, bugle, ax, and pike pole) on a Maltese cross, a symbol whose association with fire dates back to the Crusades.

After a fire demolished a large part of the Lake Forest business district in 1882, residents began clamoring for both a modernized water system and a fire brigade. The first water mains were laid in 1890, and three years later a volunteer fire-fighting force formed, with William J. O’Neill as chief. At first their equipment consisted of two small 350-foot hose reels, mounted on carts and pushed by manpower. Soon longer hoses and horse-drawn carts increased the force’s speed and reach. The City stored their horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon at Wenban’s Livery until 1898, when all the fire equipment moved into the north end of the new City Hall building.

In 1913, Mayor C. Frederick Childs created the city’s first fire department, personally canvassing $2,500 for a brand-new hook-and-ladder and hose motorized fire truck. Alfred Marwede was hired as the driver of the truck and first full-time fireman. He was supported by the members of the volunteer fire brigade, headed by captain John E. Fitzgerald.

After over two dozen years in City Hall, in 1925 the department relocated across the street to a new firehouse constructed adjacent to the police station on Forest Avenue (the former Southgate Restaurant building, now Market House on the Square). This new station accommodated spaces for three pieces of apparatus, sleeping quarters, a squad room, the Chief’s office, and a wash room. In the decade after the move, further professionalization took place, with more staff hired, including the first full-time fire chief, and new equipment purchased.

John E. Fitzgerald (circled, below) served as captain of the Volunteer Fire Department for 27 years before retiring in 1925. As proprietor of J. E. Fitzgerald Plumbing, located at the southwest corner of Deerpath and Bank Lane, he installed the plumbing and heating in a majority of Lake Forest homes – knowledge that certainly helped when he assisted in fighting fires.

Volunteer Fire Department, 1913. Top row: Aubrey Warren, George Anderson, Charles O’Neill, Thomas Hesterman, Thomas Atteridge, Harold Griffis, Joseph Anderson, William O’Neill Jr., Joseph Kerrigan; Seated in truck: William O’Neill Sr., Alfred Marwede Sr.; Bottom row: William Hensel, Charles B. Fitzgerald, George Kelley, George Wenban, John E. Fitzgerald Jr., John E. Fitzgerald Sr., Fred Wenban.

Thank you to those who adopted this artifact in December 2013:

Chris Bacon