Sycamore bids farewell to late firefighter Bradley Belanger

Hundreds of Illinois firefighters pay respects to longtime Sycamore fireman: ‘He’s so well loved,’ says fire chief

Firefighters from all around the area wait Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, to file in to the visitation for Sycamore firefighter/paramedic Bradley Belanger at the Sycamore Park District Community Center. Belanger, 45, who worked with the Sycamore Fire Department for more than two decades, died Friday, Dec. 22, after a yearlong battle with cancer.

SYCAMORE – Longtime Sycamore firefighter Bradley Belanger was remembered Saturday as the “heart and soul” of the local firehouse, as crowds from across Illinois flocked to town despite the wintery weather to pay their final respects.

Days after he received a motorcade escort from Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield and right before Christmas, Belanger, 45, died at his Esmond home Dec. 22 surrounded by family and friends, according to his obituary. He’d been diagnosed with esophageal cancer a year before.

Sycamore Fire Chief Bart Gilmore and Deputy Fire Chief Jim Ward helped orchestrate the visitation services.

“Brad was an integral part of our fire department, he was an integral member of the community, both Sycamore and DeKalb County as a whole. He served in so many different capacities, and he’s so well loved,” Gilmore said. “I think everybody sees it as an honor to be able to do this.”

Born in August 1978 in Winfield, Belanger is survived by his wife Jamie Belanger, and their two sons Dakota Becker Belanger and Hunter Belanger. During Saturday’s ceremony, Belanger’s family was given his helmet, firefighting suit and other memorabilia.

Retired Sycamore Fire Lt. Dan Marcinkowski was one of more than 100 Illinois firefighters who attended Belanger’s visitation Saturday afternoon.

“When I was a mechanic at the fire department, [Brad] was one of my assistants, and just a phenomenal guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back. And he would do anything for me and vice versa. We helped each other out. His family, our families are close, and he’s just an all around good guy. And we’ll make sure that his family is taken care of,” Marcinkowski said.

Over a six-hour period, crowds came and went for Belanger’s funeral in the Sycamore Park District Community Center, 480 Airport Road. A private service for family and close friends was scheduled for 5 p.m., but the public was invited to pay their respects as early as 11 a.m.

“Brad was an integral part of our fire department, he was an integral member of the community, both Sycamore and DeKalb County as a whole. He served in so many different capacities, and he’s so well loved.”

—  Sycamore Fire Chief Bart Gilmore

Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser, who attended the firefighter service, said Belanger’s death is sad for the late first responder’s family and the larger Sycamore community.

“Everything everybody spoke about him before I knew of his illness was very positive,” Braser said, who added he didn’t know Braser personally.

In lieu of flowers, mourners were asked to donate funds for the services through a GoFundMe page. The Sycamore Park District donated the venue space free of charge, and Sycamore School District 427 buses were used to shuttle visitors to overflow parking lots Saturday.

Firefighters gathered together for a walking procession into the building, beneath purple and red flood lights.

Belanger’s comrades, at least 100 deep, walked one-by-one through the visitation service, each saluting the folded American flag in his honor. It was a fitting sendoff for Belanger, who hailed from a firefighting family. His father, Robert Belanger, was a firefighter in Glen Ellyn. After Belanger graduated from Glenbard West High School in 1996 he sought to join the fire service, according to his obituary.

Sycamore firefighter Brad Belanger died Friday, Dec. 22, 2023, after a battle with esophageal cancer, the Sycamore Fire Department announced.

Numerous Sycamore city officials paid respects to Belanger, including City Manager Michael Hall, City Clerk Mary Kalk, First Ward Alderpersons Alicia Cosky and Alan Bauer and Fourth Ward Alderpersons Virginia Sherrod and Ben Bumpus. State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, also attended, as did Sycamore School District 427 Superintendent Steve Wilder.

Third Ward Alderwoman Nancy Copple said she was impressed by the amount of support from fire departments statewide.

“My prayers are going out to the beautiful wife and boys, and the brothers and the young sister, since we have a fire lady, and just everybody. Just pulling in and seeing the neighboring fire trucks, just the brotherhood and the sisterhood, it’s amazing. I’m just thankful,” Copple said.

DeKalb County Administrator and former Sycamore city manager, Brian Gregory said he considers himself fortunate to have worked with Belanger.

“Brad was a great guy, that always had a huge smile on his face, a positive attitude and a willingness to do anything for others including the residents of the city of Sycamore and DeKalb County, his friends and his devoted family. ‘BB’ will be certainly be missed by many,” Gregory told the Daily Chronicle in an email statement.

Placed in front of at least 150 filled seats were items to commemorate Belanger’s legacy: a folded American flag and the 1923 Stutz fire truck the department restored over the past decade. A wooden American flag with Belanger’s name etched onto it also was displayed, alongside a photo of Belanger surrounded by floral arrangements.

Belanger was a member of the Winfield Fire Protection District from 1998 until 2007, when he was hired as full-time firefighter and paramedic with the Sycamore Fire Department, according to his obituary. He was active with the Sycamore department until his death, and was known for being an involved member of the workforce including the firefighter’s union.

Belanger was part of the region’s Illinois Mutual Aid Box Alarm System “MABAS” No. 6 Technical Rescue Team, the Sycamore fire investigation team, the department’s health and safety committee, fleet and building maintenance programs, and more, according to his obituary.

Belanger was known for always having a Sharpie at the ready.

“His love for firehouse pranks and shenanigans became legendary, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie that will forever be etched in our memories,” his obituary reads. “Beyond the humor, Brad was a pillar of strength and someone you could rely on in the toughest of times. He was always there.”

Belanger’s enthusiasm for service shown outside the firehouse. He took a particular interest in local government when wind farms were being proposed near his home, a campaign that led to him running for and winning a seat on, the DeKalb County Board in November 2022.

He resigned in January 2023 after receiving his cancer diagnosis, however, but his passion and tenacity left a lasting impression on some tenured Board members.

DeKalb County Board Chair Suzanne Willis said she admired Belanger.

“I’m sorry that we did not get to serve together on the County Board for very long, I would have enjoyed serving with him longer, I’m sure. He was very active when we were having the hearings on the wind turbine farms, and I really admired him then for wanting to step up and serve on the board so he could be in a decision making position. That impressed me. I’m really sorry we did not get to work together,” Willis said.

In honor of Belanger’s service as a firefighter, and as a symbol to days gone by in the firefighting community, an old fire bell was rung three times during the firefighter visitation ceremony.

Then, a final call for emergency services rang out. Belanger, the call meant, had completed his mission.

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