The important work of the Rosecrance Florian Program has been immortalized in a sculpture meant to represent the courage and dedication of men and women in the fire service.
Colorado-based sculptor Austin Weishel created the bronze fire helmet for Florian, a residential substance abuse treatment program for firefighters and paramedics who struggle with addiction and job-related mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Florian is housed at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus in Rockford, and now, so is the helmet. It was placed on the eight-bed unit, which is decorated with other firefighter memorabilia from Chicago and New York and artwork created by the clients.
The helmet has the Rosecrance Florian name on the front, as well as the Maltese cross. Each side features different images and words that are familiar to the fire service and recovery, including the Serenity Prayer and names of the Rosecrance Florian Advisory Committee.
Committee members, who are active and retired fire service leaders from across the country, funded the sculpture project. They helped with the startup of the Florian Program and continue to offer guidance.
Weishel started with an idea for the sculpture that he first drew on paper. He then molded the helmet out of clay that could be reworked until he was satisfied with the design. Weishel is known for his precise detail work.
From there, a mold was created from the clay and first cast in wax. The wax mold comes out hollow, so sand is poured on the outside and inside of the wax to encase it. Then the wax is melted out, bronze is poured in between the sand, and everything is welded back together using different tools to make it look like the sculpture was never welded.
The helmet is about 25 percent larger than a regular fire helmet and weighs about 70 pounds. A big reason Florian Director Dan DeGryse reached out to Weishel is because Weishel has experience as a volunteer firefighter and has done several other sculptures for the fire service, police and military.
“I really wanted to capture something with the program forever, to tell the story around the helmet,” Weishel said. “People should be reassured that the fire service brotherhood is still alive with Rosecrance.”
The helmet will be on display at the 2016 Rosecrance Florian Symposium, scheduled for Sept. 28-30 at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont.