has been in the Fourth of July parade since 1911, when a fire cart was pulled by a horse-drawn carriage, making it the oldest entry in the .
“Did you notice that it was the fire laddies that always got the glad hand all along the line?” noted a Lake Bluff Chat writer in an article about that first parade.
Charles F. Helming, the first Lake Bluff fire chief appointed by the village board, rode in the first parade on the back step of the cart, according to historian Elmer Vliet’s Lake Bluff, The First 100 Years.
“Back in the early days, the fire engines were pulled by horses. Sometimes the guys would pull them,” said Lake Bluff Fire Chief David Graf. “Typically, for as long as anyone can remember, the fire department entries have been at the end of the parade as the grand finale.”
These days, Lake Bluff’s five fire engines are joined by engines from neighboring towns like Knollwood, Lake Forest, Libertyville and Fox Lake, totaling 15 or more engines, Graf said.
Some noise and shenanigans relating to the fire department’s entry have toned down over the years.
“The usage of sirens and air horns is an interesting item,” Graf said. “Everybody on the trucks is told not to use them because they’re so loud, but it always seems that there will be sirens and horns used,” he said.
“There used to be an exchange between people on the route and on the engines using water balloons and squirt guns,” Graf added. “It was getting larger every year and to be honest, it was becoming water balloon warfare. There are still some points where we expect a garden hose and put our windows up.”
Thirty-six years ago, the firemen’s association began its only fundraising effort – the annual Firemen’s Ball, held each year around the Fourth of July. This year's is from 7 to 11 p.m. Sunday, July 3, at Blair Park, 355 W. Washington Ave., Lake Bluff.
“Hundreds usually attend. Last year it got up to 500,” said Nancy Gusterine, executive assistant at the fire department.
The initial Firemen's Balls were held at the Harrison House because it was close to the community at the time and people wanted to see it, Graf said. The Firemen’s Ball was held there each year until the house ceased to exist. The ball moved to Blair Park. It was and still is a great success, raising money for equipment the village could not provide to the volunteer firefighters.
“Although it’s a firemen’s ball, our hope is that the community sees it as an opportunity for folks to get together,” Graf said.
Although more than 40 firefighters participate in the parade each year, residents can rest assured that they are safe on the Fourth. “We make plans for that weekend and continue all our usual duties,” Graf said.
“They’re always expecting the unexpected. The chief is good at directing where the guys are going to go,” Gusterine added.
This year, the fire department will not only participate in the finale, but one engine will kick off the parade to help clear the crowd for the children’s parade.
“We’ll stick a big red engine in front of the kids. That’s the only change (in our role) I’ve seen in 36 years in the department,” Graf said.