October’s the month we honor first responders. I got an early start honoring firemen this summer. I was on the Riverwalk when a Chicago fireboat named the “Fred A. Busse” cruised downriver. Busse had been the lifelong friend of my great-grandfather, Fire Marshal James Horan. 

We later boarded the fireboat at DuSable Harbor. When the “Busse” was built in 1937, it was the largest diesel-powered fireboat in the world. Previous fireboats had been steam-powered. Their tall profiles necessitated the raising of bridges, delaying their arrival at fires.

The sleek 90-foot-long “Busse” passed under bridges and could navigate in shallow water. It was named for the 39th mayor of Chicago, who held office from 1907 to 1911. During his tenure, Busse appointed his boyhood friend to head the fire department. “Big Jim” Horan was later killed in the 1910 Stockyard Fire, along with 20 of his men. Busse sobbed when he heard the news about his friend. 

The “Busse” docked on the river and remained in service until 1981. On the morning of Jan. 16, 1967, a fire broke out at McCormick Place. Two thousand firemen responded to the blaze. They found that four of the seven fire hydrants serving the building were not operational. The firefighters were forced to draft water from Lake Michigan.

The city’s three fireboats also responded to the fire, the “Busse” among them. The lake was frozen but the fireboats somehow made it to McCormick Place. The “Busse” had four water cannons that combined to spray 10,000 gallons a minute on the blaze. It took eight hours to control the fire, which completely destroyed the exhibition hall. 

After taking the fireboat tour, we went for dinner at The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, 1401 S. Michigan Avenue. I told the hostess about my “Big Jim” connection and she said she would notify the manager. 

The restaurant’s general manager, Shannon Tauschman, showed us a document on her iPad. It was a Chicago Fire Department order, dated Dec. 31, 1906. The order organized four new engine companies, including Engine Company No. 104, at Fourteenth Street and Michigan Avenue. It was signed by James Horan, Fire Marshal and Chief of Brigade. 

Tauschman explained how Horan had the firehouse built in 1905 on landfill from the Great Chicago Fire. This new property also attracted many of the city’s movers and shakers to build mansions along Prairie Avenue. 

Among them was Marshall Field, who had built the world’s largest store. Field used Tiffany bricks to build his department store. Perhaps that’s why white, glazed Tiffany bricks were used in the construction of the firehouse. The building is also notable for being built with yellow Indiana limestone, when most firehouses were constructed with common red brick. It remained an active firehouse until 1987 and was one of five firehouses used in the filming of the movie, “Backdraft.”

As we left the restaurant, we spotted Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church across the street. My great-grandfather attended Mass at Old St. Mary’s every morning. It was Chicago’s first parish, founded in 1833. The original church was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. The modern structure at 1500 S. Michigan is the church’s sixth incarnation. 

This October, we think of all the first responders who keep us safe. Some, like “Big Jim” and his fellow firefighters, paid the ultimate price. A ceremony was also held at Remembrance Park to honor Forest Park Police Officer Michael T. Caufield on the 40th anniversary of his fatal shooting.  

We honor our first responders and never forget those who have fallen.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.