Farmington HillsJuly 3, 2012
Firefighter with NHL job rides into sunset
By David Wallace
C & G Staff Writer
FARMINGTON HILLS — Lt. Denny Hughes must have done something right during his 31 years with the Fire Department.
When the department held a hot dogs and chips retirement luncheon for Hughes at Fire Station 5 June 26 — perhaps the safest barbecue in the history of barbecues — it looked like one of the graduation parties going on in the community, with people constantly dropping in to offer congratulations, hug and remember the good times.
Hughes said he knew he had five or six good friends before the party, but he didn’t know the number was more like 350.
He started his firefighting career in 1981 as a paid-on-call firefighter at Station 4 and received a promotion to sergeant a few years later. Further promotions included advancing to fire inspector and fire prevention inspector positions. In 2008, he became staff lieutenant, and his job became more administrative. At that time, members of the general public might have started recognizing his name in print and on TV, as he became the department’s public information officer.
Hughes had been laid off from Ford Motor Co. in 1981 and had firefighting in the back of his mind from growing up on a Detroit street populated with police officers, including his dad, and firefighters. He said the firefighters brought the attention they paid to their fire trucks home with them.
“The guys who had the nicest houses and the nicest cars were the firemen,” said Hughes.
He also kept his car spotless, and recognized that firefighting has some of the same team aspects as athletics, which he enjoyed.
Hughes doesn’t remember his first emergency run, but he does remember breaking his wrist with five weeks to go in his fire academy class and keeping the injury quiet, so he could graduate and get the job. He remembers knee-buckling pain when he had to use a pike pole to punch through and pull down a plaster ceiling as part of the training.
Hughes said that when hired, firefighters sometimes have a “bucket list” of things they hope to accomplish, but they quickly learn that if they are active firefighters, they automatically will accomplish those goals.
“You’re not going to find a better feeling in your life than saving someone’s life,” Hughes said. He was involved in numerous incidents that earned firefighters lifesaving awards.
“I have been involved in the delivery of two babies,” Hughes said.
The funny thing is that emergency deliveries begin with meeting a stranger, but a bond develops almost instantly.
“You become extremely attached to that little baby,” Hughes said.
Five different times Hughes has won Firefighter of the Year awards, be it from the department or from a civic organization.
He also participated in a walk to New York City soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and visited Ground Zero. During the walk, many in small-town America recognized the firefighters walking in solidarity with their New York brethren.
“It got pretty emotional,” he said. He keeps a small flag that a girl gave him along the walk.
“It’s in my scrapbook,” he said.
Former District Chief Jim Schierloh was at Station 4 when Hughes began his career.
“He was very willing to get involved and didn’t hesitate,” said Schierloh.
Hughes convinced Jerry Miles to become a paid-on-call firefighter, which Miles was for about 11 years beginning in the mid-1980s.
“He was so good at everything,” Miles said.
Miles said that as a new firefighter, he participated in a training burn and maybe went a little too gung-ho at the flames. He remembers that a stream of water appeared over his head and doused the fire.
“That was Denny just making sure I was all right,” said Miles. “He just was afraid the heat was going to be too much for me.”
Estralee Michaelson worked with Hughes while she served as the Farmington Public Schools director of safe schools.
“Denny is a man of integrity. There is no doubt he will be sorely, sorely missed,” she said.
In addition to firefighting, Hughes also has had a part-time job with the National Hockey League for 12 years as the league’s security representative assigned to the Detroit Red Wings. NHL official Greg Devorski was in attendance at the retirement party.
Hughes had joked that he and Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom announced their retirements on the same day, and Hughes wore Fire Department badge No. 5, which was Lidstrom’s number. Lidstrom recently visited Hughes and put on one of Hughes’ old fire helmets with the big No. 5 on it for a retirement picture.
Hughes will keep his NHL job, and at 53, he plans to look for a new career that could use his emergency management and security experience.
Hughes said the one person who has been with him the whole 31 years is his wife, Jackie. They were dating when he was hired on in 1981. His wife and kids bought him a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for retirement.
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