Chief Hughes salutes an excited Medfield firefighter at his retirement parade.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Craig Hughes has been a firefighter for as long as he’s been an adult, having started his career on his eighteenth birthday: July 4, 1975. With 45 years worth of service to the town, to say nothing of his work with the Highway Department, Hughes deserved a proper send-off as he opted for retirement this month. Unfortunately, in the era of COVID-19 and the ensuing social distancing rules, the typical large functions that would normally be put on for someone who dedicated so much of their time to the community are not possible.
But if you were driving through Dover on Tuesday afternoon and had to pull over for a parade of fire trucks from a huge swath of towns, don’t worry. They weren’t heading to a fire; they were honoring Chief Hughes with a drive-by fire truck parade.
With trucks representing a wide variety of communities, Chief Hughes didn’t know what was going on when he realized the streets leading to the fire station had been blocked off. But when he was finally told what was happening, he stood and saluted his firefighter brothers as the drove by, honked, gave thumbs up, and thanked him for his over four decades of service.
When the parade was over, the crowd was funneled behind the fire station, where chairs were laid out in a socially distanced manner, boxed meals were handed out, and a variety of people who worked with Chief Hughes gave speeches that noted his kindness, capability, and dedication to the job.
Many speakers noted how much equipment he was able to secure for the department, and how helpful he was to them. After Chief Hughes was presented with a fire helmet, and a framed shadow box of his patches and badges, Interim Fire Chief Paul Luttazi noted: “I’ve learned a lot. You were always there for me, and you never hesitated. You were always there for me when I needed you, and I’m sure you’ll still be around when I need some help. You did a great job, you got some terrific equipment, with the ambulance and the gaiters you purchased, and I thank you for your time and your years here.”
But while Hughes has fought fires in a wide variety of towns over the years, perhaps the best example of his dedication to the job came when there wasn’t actually a fire.
As his daughter Leslie explained, Hughes was so committed to the job - to helping fight fires and saving lives - that while admirable, it set him up perfectly to be the victim of a practical joke.
“One story that still stands out to me was on Thanksgiving, with our house full of family we all sat down for dinner and the tone went off," she said to her father. "You jumped out, put your shoes on, ran to your truck when everyone started to laugh. Little did you know it was a recorded tone for us to play a prank on you. This demonstrates your true dedication to the fire department and fire service as a whole. No matter where you were or who you were with, you were always ready to respond and help wherever needed. You have protected this community for 16,425 consecutive days. We will miss your good humor, willingness to listen to us - especially when facing real obstacles - but most of all, we will miss all the hard work you put in each and every day.”
When pressed on the moments that stand out to him from his 45 years of service, Hughes noted a mix of exciting experiences, like searching trailers in Western Mass after a tornado, and the day-in and day-out of meeting people and rescuing cats.
“We had plenty of major fires in town, ten or fifteen years ago. But they’ve come a long way with alarm systems and stuff like that, which kind of prevents it. But the little things, like rescuing cats, where you’re rescuing the same cat two or three times the same week out of a tree. This past year was very tough, we had two fatalities that unfortunately we couldn’t do anything about: a major car accident and a bad burn victim in a fire. But it’s just seeing people, getting to know people, not one particular moment. I’ve been out of town a lot. I went to a lot of out of town fires, I’ve been in Westwood quite often. There was one time I went out with a crew to the tornados out in Western Mass, for a 24-hour shift searching trailers and stuff, about seven or ten years ago. That was a highlight, going out there when they activated the Norfolk County Task Force.”
Hughes noted that his proudest accomplishment over the years may be the number of people that attended the firefighter academy because of him, as well as some internal procedures he developed as the chief.
“Just in the last four years when I became chief, I put on a number of people - men and women - I had a number of people attend the firefighter academy. I really got the interest going in that. And, a lot of policy changes; getting some policies and some procedures we never had in place. We closed the door on that about a year ago, and it really helps now. We have good procedures, and the protocols were updated. So, a lot of internal stuff.”
But what do you do when you’ve been fighting fires since your eighteenth birthday, and suddenly find yourself with large amounts of free time on your hands for the first time ever as an adult? While he was still getting used to the idea, Chief Hughes noted that while the weather is still nice, he’d like to do some golfing. And when the weather gets bad, the Highway Department employee dating back to 1986 plans on, well, not having to deal with it.
“I’ve been thinking hard, but I’m just going to enjoy right now, and with this weather get some rounds of golf in. I love playing golf, but yeah, I’ll do alright. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, but since I ran the Highway Department for the last 34 years, it will be nice to sit home for a snowstorm.”