October is Fire Prevention Month, which commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Naperville Fire Department was founded just three years later in 1874 when a series of fires ignited in the downtown Naperville area. The department’s first piece of firefighting equipment, the Joe Naper Pumper, remains a treasured piece of firefighting history that continues to thrill visitors at Naper Settlement when it is used for demonstrations during special events and programs.
The hand pumper, hose reel and hose was purchased in 1874 by the citizens of Naperville for $1,752.50. The pumper became the primary piece of firefighting equipment for Naperville’s first volunteer fire department, the Joe Naper Engine Co. No. 1, which was founded in September 1874, several months after a devastating hotel fire in the downtown area.
Named “Joe Naper” after the town’s founding father, the pumper remained in service for many years, until it fortunately ended up on the property of someone who understood its value and history.
Dennis Adamski, retired assistant chief of the Naperville Fire Department, had been a firefighter in Naperville only a couple of years when the late Jane Sindt, founder of the Naperville Heritage Society, told the department that there was an old pumper sitting on her lot and asked them to take it.
“We spent a little better than a year restoring the Joe Naper pumper,” Adamski said, recalling they completed the restoration in 1974 in time for the department's 100th anniversary.
From its beginning in 1874, the Naperville Fire Department has a proud tradition of keeping the community safe. Today, the Naperville Fire Department’s professional personnel numbers over 200, with 10 stations serving more than 146,000 residents in Naperville and the surrounding unincorporated Naperville Fire Protection District, safeguarding over 52 square miles. The Naperville Fire Department is one of a select few fire departments in the U.S. to have been awarded accreditation status by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
In 2009, the Naperville Heritage Society partnered with Naperville Hose Co. No. 1, a group of retired and active firefighters, who wanted to preserve Naperville’s firefighting history. The Public Safety Preservation Project was launched and received funding from the Naperville Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Board and a City of Naperville Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund Grant.
Naper Settlement Registrar Sarah Buhlig and retired Firefighter/Paramedic Mike Andler set out to spread the word about the project and solicit artifacts from all ten fire stations. The dedicated pair collected items such as scrapbooks, photos, old uniforms and tools and also received an overwhelmingly positive response from the fire community for their efforts. The department's rich history continues to be inventoried and carefully rehoused for long-term preservation along with recorded oral histories from retired fire department personnel and members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.
If community members have Naperville Fire Department memorabilia or other Naperville-based artifacts and would like to donate them to Naper Settlement, please call (630) 420-6010.
- Donna DeFalco, Naper Settlement