John Hughes first wanted to be a firefighter as a kid, inspired by the fire trucks and sirens. Now in his 21st year with the Wayne Fire Department, and 30 years into his career, Hughes was recognized as the New Jersey Devils’ Hero of the Game on January 4, as the Devils hosted the Detroit Red Wings.
As a 19-year-old, Hughes began his firefighting career with the Little Falls Fire Department in 1986. After 10 years in Little Falls, Hughes moved to Wayne, NJ, joining the Packanack Lake Fire Company, also known as Company 5 of the Wayne Fire Department. Over the course of his 20 years with Wayne, Hughes rose through the ranks, eventually serving two years as assistant chief and two years as department chief between 2004 and 2007.
Before being elected chief, Hughes served two years at each level of the department. “You’ve got an engineer position, chief engineer, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief…there’s a ladder you have to climb.” Hughes explained that during his time as the chief, it was his job to manage morale, organize drills, attend township meetings and other instances where he had to represent his company. In Wayne, there are five assistants and five chiefs, a pair for each fire company.
Over the course of his service, Hughes participated in the response to major events in the region, such as Hurricane Sandy. “Hurricane Sandy involved evacuations. We had flooding, boat operations, rescues out of homes that are on the river.”
Hughes also participated in the response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. “We got as far down as the Meadowlands, where we had a staging area to be called into the city.” Hughes explained that area fire companies like his own were prepared and ready to be called into the city, if needed.
For his service, Hughes has received a handful of awards from the township of Wayne. “They’re your typical awards that a township may give out, for participation in things like Sandy or other events that our company responded to…. no saving babies. Thank God nothing like that.”
In addition to volunteering his time with the fire department, Hughes works as a foreman for the Water and Sewer division of the Department of Public Works in Wayne. “It’s day and night, 24/7.” Over his entire volunteer-career with area fire departments, he has spent his days working for his towns. When he moved to Wayne in 1995, he transferred his day job from Little Falls to Wayne alongside his firefighting career.
Already familiar with the New Jersey Devils’ Hero of the Game program, having attended Wayne’s “My Town Night” last season when fellow firefighter Charlie Cunningham was honored, Hughes said he was not expecting to receive the honor himself. Hughes first learned he’d be honored from his son Kevin, a fan and cadet with the United States Army Reserves Officer’s Training Corps in South Carolina, who nominated the ex-chief. It’s a nice feeling, being here and getting recognized after about 30 years of service.” Hughes said he enjoyed being able to share that experience with his family, who joined him for the game.