HINSDALE – Before oxygen masks, a fireman’s greatest tool to fight smoke inhalation was, of all things, his beard.
According to the history of SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), a fireman would dip his beard in water, then clinch his wet beard between his teeth and breathe through his mouth, which in theory used the wet beard as a natural filter to prevent smoke inhalation.
“When we travel to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, or the National Fire Academy, that’s like the hall of fame of mustaches,” said Steve Tullis of the Hinsdale Fire Department. “Most of us are just amateurs here.”
Tullis said as SCBAs were introduced in the late 1800s, firefighters were told to shave their beards clean or into a mustache to help create a better seal for the SCBA face piece. Tullis said in fire houses all over the country and in some parts of the world, a mustache is considered a part of the uniform.
But that’s not the reason behind the latest mission from the Hinsdale Fire Department that has its members growing out the upper lip.
Throughout November, members of the Hinsdale and Westmont fire departments will be participating in a “Movember” competition growing out their mustaches to raise money and awareness for testicular and prostate cancer.
Hinsdale fireman Jim Nichols said on Thanksgiving Day, the departments will see who has raised the most money, with the winner really just getting bragging rights. The real winners will be those who benefit from the generous donations.
“The money we raise on the website will be one of the deciding factors, but if we get cash here at the station we’re going to give that to a prostate cancer center in Westmont,” Nichols said.
Westmont firefighter Chris Gerlich said the competition for both fire departments officially started Nov. 1.
“It’s just a fun little thing to encourage each other to do our best,” Gerlich said. “With that, everyone is encouraged to grow a mustache no matter how ridiculous you look with it.”
The goal for each department is to raise as much as possible, but Hinsdale, specifically Assistant Chief Tim McElroy, has an eye on $5,000.
If that amount is raised, McElroy will shave his 40-year-old soup strainer.
“I think what’s going to happen is [the fund] is going to get really big,” McElroy said.
In just the first week, the department had more than $500 and was eagerly inching closer to not only carving a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but their chief’s mustache.
– Reporter Kristin Pedicini contributed to this report.