LAKEVIEW — You could say that Sid Blustain was born to be a firefighter in Lakeview.
Blustain's parents didn't have time to go to the hospital, so instead, Blustain's mother gave birth to him at the next closest place: The 5th Battalion firehouse, then located at Sheffield and Diversey avenues.
Now, at 57 years old, Blustain is leaving the same battalion after serving as a Chicago firefighter for nearly 34 years.
"It was meant to be," Blustain said.
The battalion is now housed near Halsted Street and Diversey Avenue, home of Engine Co. 55. Blustain has spent most of his career there. After stints downtown and on the West Side, he went back to the neighborhood he grew up in.
Despite being born in a firehouse, Blustain didn't expect to become a firefighter.
Lakeview-born-and-bred, he attended Nettlehorst Elementary School and Lakeview High School, and wanted to study wildlife when he started at Northeastern Illinois University as a biology major.
After realizing he had terrible allergies and hated insects, he was unsure of what to do after graduation. A friend told him about the firefighter test, so he took it on a lark — not thinking about his birthplace.
"Never for a day have I regretted [taking the test]," he said.
Turned out, Blustain loved being a firefighter. Working in Lakeview and Lincoln Park meant nonstop activity. When he first started working in the area, it had fires nearly every day, he said. Now it's a challenging mix, from fires and lakefront rescues to accidents and emergency medical calls, he said.
"There is enough work to keep you busy and on the top of your game," he said. "It’s impossible to become complacent at this firehouse."
Co-workers have become "a group who I consider to be my second family," he said.
Blustain even met his wife on the job. Dawn Blustain, 46, now owner of a real estate company, used to work as a school psychologist for St. Alpohnsus Academy. During a fire drill in 1995, as the kids were filing out and the firefighters were filing in, Dawn and Sid crossed paths. They've been together ever since.
"It was a great work of fate," he said.
As a firefighter, Blustain has also seen a lot of tragedy. He once had the sad job of trying to rescue two high school couples who crashed on Lake Shore Drive on the way back from a dance. The girls were in gowns, and the boys were in tuxes, Blustain said.
"We did everything we could, but the impact of the crash was so horrific, it killed them," Blustain said.
Yet in spite of the tragedies, Blustain never acts jaded, his fellow firefighters said. He manages to stay "100 percent positive," said firefighter Ryan Enright, who has been at the firehouse for three years and looks up to Blustain.
Lt. Rick Vega, who grew up with Blustain and has worked with him for years, said not all firefighters stay as caring and upbeat as Blustain.
"It takes a special individual to be up for 24 hours, not get any sleep, and yet be compassionate," Vega said. "Some guys get really, really cold. He does not."
Blustain may be retiring, but he's not one to sit around. He is active in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a form of martial arts, and teaches at Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Next year, he will be traveling to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to compete in the World Police and Fire Olympics' judo competition, something he started learning at the now-closed Jane Addams Hull House on North Broadway.
But Blustain will always feel like a firefighter, he said.
"There’s a lot of pride and tradition," he said. "You’re part of something bigger than yourself. You can’t help but feel really good about what you do. A lot of who I am is wrapped up in this job."
His last day of work will be Saturday.