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Devils honor hero on Firefighter Appreciation Night

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Firefighter John Hooker (center) has been with the Butler Fire Department without break since 1993. A life-member of the department, Hooker has spent time as part of the swift water and ice rescue team as well as the vehicle extrication team. 

As the New Jersey Devils faced the Philadelphia Flyers on December 4, the team honored firefighter John Hooker as the team’s Hero of the Game. In addition to Hooker as the night’s hero, the team recognized other firefighters from around New Jersey as part of Firefighter Appreciation Night at Prudential Center.

A self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” Hooker said he was first inspired to become a firefighter in the late 1970s after watching the NBC television show “Emergency!.” It was always about the adrenaline and the rush.” The 47-year-old said that joining the force also gave him a second family, who he would go out of his way to help at any time.

A life-member of the Butler Fire Department, Hooker joined in 1987 and achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant before he left the town and the force to get married in 1990. Three years later, Hooker returned to the fire department and has been back ever since.

Within the fire department, Hooker is a member of the swift water and ice rescue team, which rescues civilians in water emergencies, including falling through ice in the winter. “We go out, and try to make sure that these people go home at night,” Hooker said.

Hooker was also a member of the department’s vehicle extrication team, helping first responders get into vehicles to attend to patients in bad car crashes that would otherwise be unreachable.

Between the two teams, Hooker went through 130 hours of heavy rescue training. “We did everything from a smokehouse, which is a yearly thing firefighters have to do, to repelling; we did lifts and lowers…a little bit of medical as well.”

In 1998, Hooker was awarded the department’s Medal of Honor, after rescuing fishermen from a flooded river. “The river that runs through our community is controlled by a dam about 15 miles upstream. The floodgates are automatic and the pressure was high enough that they automatically open. The fishermen became trapped because of the water.” Hooker said he didn’t think about the danger, trusting in his team and his training.

Alongside his time as a firefighter, Hooker also served in the United States Army from 1987 to 1993. Hooker also assisted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, helping treat the wounded. “Even this many years later, it’s tough to talk about.”

Hooker is also a season ticket member, in his fourth year as a member. Wearing a firefighter’s hat covered in signatures from players, coaches and alumni, he said his favorite current player is team captain Andy Greene, but that his favorite all time player is goaltender Chris Terreri.

“[Terreri] was the first Devil that I actually liked to watch play.” Hooker said that when he went to his first game at the then-Brendan Byrne Arena, it was to see Terreri play. That night was March 26, 1992, when Martin Brodeur made his NHL debut, playing in place of Terreri. “That was 100 years ago,” Hooker joked. Much more recent, Hooker said his favorite memory of watching the Devils was when he saw Patrik Elias score his 400th career goal last season.

“This is not something that I go out of my way…to get the praise.” Hooker said. Humbly, he added that he considers members of the military that go overseas, police officers and others as potentially more worthy of the recognition. “This is just something I do. I enjoy doing it.”

Hooker was not the only firefighter celebrated on a night of recognition. Linden Fire Department Chief Kevin Brady sang the National Anthem, surrounded by members of his department presenting the flags as the night’s color guard. To further support the Garden State’s firefighters, the team recognized the New Jersey Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association as its Non-Profit of the Game.

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