He was a seven-year veteran of the , and a 21-year fireman—and for , it was all about service to others.
"It was the enjoyment of doing things for other people," said Finderne Fire Chief Rich Armstrong, who knew him for more than 30 years. "It made him what he was as a firefighter, and he was very dedicated."
Schupper died Monday after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"He was a prideful man, with pride in what he did as a fireman, and he was someone the younger guys would look up to," Armstrong said. "He was a very dedicated family man, and it was that dedication that he brought to the fire service."
A 25-year worker for the Bound Brook Public Works Department, Schupper was a fireman with the Bound Brook Fire Department for 17 years before he moved to the Finderne Fire Company. Armstrong said Schupper had already been living in Bridgewater for a while when he decided to move to a Bridgewater fire company.
"And he was still semi-active with Bound Brook at the time," Armstrong said. "He worked for the public works department so he was in town during the day, and he would assist them as they needed help."
Armstrong said Schupper was a Navy veteran, serving in the early 1980s, and he had always enjoyed serving others.
"What I believe he brought to the fire company was strength of character," said Allen Kurdyla, township council president and member of the fire company. "He had a family he was extremely dedicated to, he felt commitment to his community to serve and he brought a tremendous amount of integrity to his service."
In addition to being a member of the fire company, Schupper served as captain for two years, then took a year off and was elected to the position again just before his cancer diagnosis last year.
"He was responsible for training, record keeping, assisting the chief in whatever projects he had in mind," Kurdyla said. "The captain is the guy you rely on to keep things in order."
"That didn't take into account his command responsibility at fire scenes," he added. "He could be the individual who directed in the command structure, and he could be the hands-on officer, going into the burning building."
The training was the most important to Schupper, Armstrong said, as his friend loved answering questions from younger members of the fire company.
"He took pride in talking to the younger members," he said. "He would talk about the different types of fires he had fought, what it was like when he first joined the fire service, the different types of gear and safety equipment and taking a leadership role."
"He was molding young members into becoming firefighters," Armstrong added.
James Bentz—assistant fire chief at the Finderne Fire Co., who said Schupper was like a brother to him—said Schupper brought his experience to the fire company.
"He liked to work with younger members to train them in the right ways once they got through fire school," Bentz said. "He would take them and train them about the different things in the field."
Armstrong said he remembers fighting fires with Schupper, then heading back to the fire company to talk about past stories and connect with others.
But aside from being part of the fire company, Schupper was a family man who was just as dedicated to his family and his work life.
"He had a proper perspective, and he understood his family was his first priority and his responsibility to his work was primary," Kurdyla said. "And along with fulfilling those obligations, he did an excellent job as a member and officer."
"You see a lot of people come through and they don't have things in order, but the best guys have their priorities correct, with family, work and then the fire department," he added. "The one thing that was true about Jim is that he was reliable and you could count on him."
And for members of the fire company, they are reeling from the loss of this skilled and treasured firefighter.
Armstrong said the company was shocked when they heard the news of Schupper's cancer diagnosis last year.
"Sometimes that stuff you can't put into words, the initial shock of hearing the news," Armstrong said. "And even the whole time that he dealt with the disease, he showed the same spirit, fight and grit that he did every day being a fireman, being a parent and being a husband."
"He had strength and courage that is far and above most people I know," he added.
Bentz said that, as one of Schupper's close friends, it is especially difficult to deal with the diagnosis, and the eventual loss of a friend.
"It was hard to hear of the diagnosis, he was very active with us," he said. "It hurt because we knew we were going to lose an officer."
Now, Bentz said, the fire company members are just trying to support each other and the family Schupper left behind.
"Right now we're holding our own, trying to stay strong for his family and making sure everyone is OK," he said. "We are trying to be together, not on our own, and we're always checking up. We have always been in contact with each other over the past few days."
Armstrong said Schupper will receive a full fireman's funeral Friday, complete with an honor guard and the coffin being carried on one of the pieces of apparatus.
"There's only one way to send off a brother fireman, and that's what we will do," he said.
Visiting hours will be held Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at on East Main Street. Prayers will be said at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, followed by a 9:30 a.m. mass at St. Joseph's Church in Bound Brook. Schupper will be buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Hillsborough.
Instead of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Finderne Volunteer Fire Company, Bound Brook Fire Department or Elizabeth Schupper's Scholarship Fund via Debra Schupper at 6 Manville Blvd, Bridgewater, NJ 08807.
And some local organizations are still holding events that were initially to help Schupper's medical bills, and now will be held in his honor.
The Bound Brook Moose Lodge was planning a golf outing June 8, with half of the proceeds going to the family.
"We did receive word that they will still go forward with that, with half of the proceeds going to the family," Armstrong said.
In addition to that, Saturday to raise money for Schupper and his family—now the event will be held in his honor.
For the members of the fire company, they will remember the great work Schupper did as part of the company, and the loving man he was.
"It was an honor to serve as an officer with him," Bentz said. "He was a loving father and husband, and a great friend."