Father and Son are Avid Collectors of Firefighting Memorabilia
Collecting firefighting memorabilia is an extension of father and son's firefighting careers.
Elmhurst resident Brian DeBosschere has several fire hydrants tastefully displayed in his back yard on the 300 block of Emroy. A pathway leads visitors by each hydrant and ends at a cleverly designed fire hydrant fountain that shoots water into a pond below.
DeBosschere, 45, obtained his fire hydrant collection from junk yards, antiques shops and public works departments.
"There are people who only collect fire hydrants," DeBosschere said. "They go nuts for them, sometimes paying as much as $100 or $200 for just one. It's unbelievable."
As former firemen, he and his father, Roger DeBosschere, started collecting buckles and badges after Roger was given a fireman's badge by his father-in-law for his 40th birthday.
Now, 35 years later, the DeBosscheres have five pole barns at their farm in Caledonia, Ill., that are chock full of buckles, badges, fire poles, hoses, hydrants, nozzles, gauges, pompier belts, fire coats, hats, boots, an 1850 horse cart and nine—yes, nine—fire engines.
The younger DeBosschere was a fireman for the Harvey Fire Department for a year and a half, but ultimately decided he could support his family better as a carpenter.
But his father fought fires for 35 years with the Chicago Fire Department, first on Engine 27 at the firehouse at Division and Larrabee, right next to Cabrini Green, then on engines 106, truck 58 and then truck 57. He ultimately was promoted to a lieutenant and concluded his career at the Fire Prevention Bureau.
"I enjoyed riding the rigs," Roger said. "But I transferred to a day job the last few years so I could be home at night to help take care of my wife."
Roger's wife, Janice DeBosschere, was diabetic and could no longer manage with her husband working a fireman's shift of 24 hours on, then 48 hours off.
She died in December 1993 from complications from diabetes at the age of 55.
Until then, the DeBosscheres' collection consisted of small fire fighting trinkets that were easily managed and stored. But after Janice's death, collecting and going to fire trade shows became a way for father and son to work through their grief together.
They purchased their first fire engine less than a year after Janice died: a 1946 K-B6 International.
"We bought it for $1,500," Brian said. "It came out of the Navy after the war, and then was given to a small fire house in East Troy, Wisc."
The DeBosscheres ultimately sold the 1946 International back to the East Troy firefighters after the East Troy Volunteer Fire Department discovered it was one of the first fire engines the department ever had.
"The firemen took up a collection to buy it back from us," Brian said.
The next engine they bought was a 1949 Ford Flat Head V-6 from a woman who was not happy that her husband bought the fire engine instead of getting her a hot tub.
"She was real mad at her husband," Brian said.
Every engine the DeBosscheres bought seemed to have a story, like the one they bought on eBay for half of its list price from the daughter of a deceased elderly gentlemen. Then there is the Diamond T–the Cadillac of fire engines–that a Caledonia postal worker told them about, and the 1946 Chevy Cab-Over that a Rockford radio station purchased for a promotional stunt, and then needed to sell as part of liquidating assets.
"We found that one on SPAMMFA," Brian said. "The guy was just happy to get rid of it."
SPAMMFA stands for the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America. The organization has clubs all over the United States and Canada.
"We meet a lot of great people at the Fire Musters through places like SPAMMFA," Brian said.
By attending three fire shows a year, the DeBosscheres stay connected with the special brotherhood of firefighting collectors they've grown fond of, and they find the unique items they are looking for.
"A lot more people want to buy firefighting stuff since Sept. 11 happened," Roger said.
The DeBosscheres' collection is so impressive and so well preserved that the Boone County Historical Society has offered to make their collection an extension of the Boone County Historical Museum.
"I'd love for others to experience our collection," Brian said. "But you really have to watch out for the young ones so they don't get hurt. Plus there's a lot of sentimental and monetary value invested in what we have."
Roger agrees. Each engine reminds him of special times spent with his son finding the right engine, examining the body, the nozzles and the fittings, and then working together to make each engine like the Chicago rigs he once rode.
So for now, father and son just keep collecting. They are working on their latest find, a 1956 B95 Mack Pumper.
"We just love doing it," Brian said. "It's been a great thing for me and my dad to do together since my mom died."