DOWNTOWN — When Sammy Hagar rocks Northerly Island later this month, he’s bringing a giant, tiki-themed fire hydrant on stage with him.
Don’t worry, it’s not some weird rock star fetish.
It’s just the former Van Halen frontman’s way of supporting Chicago cops and firefighters.
Hagar’s island-themed fire plug is his contribution to the 100 Club of Chicago’s The Great Chicago Fire Hydrants public art project that aims to raise cash for families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Beginning Sept. 11, you’ll start to see 5-foot high fiberglass fireplugs pop up at Navy Pier, the Hyatt Regency hotel and restaurants and shops all over town.
It’s like Cows On Parade — Chicago’s hugely popular 1999 public art campaign — only instead of heifers, a collection of artist are decorating Chicago-style fire hydrants.
“The idea is to make everyone aware and understand the importance of the sacrifice first responders make,” 100 Club spokesman Dakota Shultz said. “There’s 47,000 fire hydrants in Chicago, and you never notice them until you try to park your car. These are 5 feet tall and almost 3 feet wide, colorfully decorated by artists from all across the nation.”
Hagar got Todd Gallopo, the Grammy-nominated artist who designed album covers for Hagar’s band Chickenfoot, to design the Tiki hydrant, which he turned into a bank so when folks pose in front of it at Carnival restaurant, they can fill it with cash donations to the 100 Club.
Nationally renowned artist Paul Collins, who designed the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize Medal and the NASA space shuttle emblem, designed a fire plug. And so did 12-year old Bela Quintas, a self-taught painter from Plainfield who was commissioned by Aurora-based First Alert.
So far, 70 of 101 of the public art hydrants — one for each firehouse in the city — have been sponsored by local folks, businesses and a few famous folks, including REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin, an Evanston native.
On Dec. 4, they’ll all be auctioned off to raise cash that ultimately gives spouses of fallen cops and firefighters $50,000 and up to $20,000 a year to send their kids to college — a 100 Club of Chicago tradition since 1966.
“We hope to raise a ton of money that allows us to sustain our program,” 100 Club CEO Joe Ahern said. “The painted cows got international attention. We really hope people support the fire hydrants and this really catches fire.”
Pun intended, of course.
Folks interested in designing one of the remaining 31 blank fire hydrants can get one for a $1,500 donation and put it on display.
Chicago firefighters union boss Tom Ryan can’t wait to see the designs artists come up with, but he’s even happier that it’s for a great cause.
“It’s really humbling. We always say, ‘We’ll never forget,’ and this is the kind of thing that really helps families of police, fire and parametics killed in the line of duty,” Ryan said. “Once the bagpipes stop playing and the public mourning is over, there are still families left with kids who need help.
“And this is a great way to raise money. The fire hydrant is a very simple tool that symbolizes everything we do in the Fire Department. There’s nothing more Chicago than that.”