Northern Illinois Fire Museum opens after 20 years of looking for a home: ‘We’ve always been trying to find a spot’
Museum has collection ranging from trucks, to equipment, toys
By James T. Norman
After being without a home for more than 20 years, the Northern Illinois Fire Museum in Lake in the Hills opened its doors Saturday.
“We’ve always been trying to find a spot,” President and Treasurer Dennis Ahrens said. “We found this ... and it’s worked out very well.”
Since 2000, the museum has held its collectibles in a storage facility south of Marengo, Ahrens said. Over the years, the museum has collected and restored a variety of classic firefighter items, with the big draw being 13 different kinds of fire trucks and units.
But finding a permanent home proved to be tough, Ahrens said. The museum’s new location, at 9114 Virginia Road, is for a two-year lease. Located in a strip center, the place, while not large enough to contain the entire collection, has what’s needed to wheel the trucks in and out.
“Everything has been not working with us,” he said. “As soon as we find a spot, it’s sold or rented. ... We’ve been fighting for 22 years to find a spot.”
The trucks in the collection come from a variety of places and several have been restored by the museum. An older one from Mundelein is on display. Another comes from Huntley. One from Milwaukee was built in the fire department’s shop itself, Ahrens said. That one has an itemized receipt with it for the parts.
“They bought the motor, they bought the frame, they bought the pump and everything that’s on it, and built it the way they wanted it,” Ahrens said.
One, from Harvard, was used to fight the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Ahrens said.
Another, a 1939 model, came from Baltimore, and was donated by the family of Roberta Bellock. Bellock, in attendance on Saturday, said her late husband always had an interest in fire trucks. When they lived in Baltimore, he used to drive neighborhood kids around, she said. After moving to Elgin, Bellock said the state didn’t allow them to drive it anymore.
The truck, as a result, sat in their garage for nearly 30 years. But she was eventually introduced to the museum, which took the truck and restored it.
“When it started up everyone started balling,” she said. “It was the sound we were so used to. And then my grandchildren got to ride on it.”
Beyond trucks, the collection includes a variety of firefighting items. Glass cases of both old, used helmets and walkie-talkies, different types of fire extinguishers, a shelf of tools and old firefighter toys for kids and firefighting equipment paired with each of the trucks, are some of what the collection has to offer.
Ahrens said he hopes to expand it further. In addition to switching out the trucks with others in the collection, he’s hoping to bring in more learning material for those interested. That will include different books as a scholarly resource, and a projector that could host different videos and movies.
“It’s going to be opened up for all ages,” Ahrens said.