Hughes family remembers 128 years of fighting Chicago fires

Some families produce lawyers. Others doctors and nurses.

But for the Hughes clan of Chicago, putting out fires is the family business. They're a family that has had a member on the Chicago Fire Department for 128 years.

"It's the family profession and it was…kinda handed down," said firefighter Jerry Hughes.

"There's a lot of tradition here. A lot of hard work and a lot of camaraderie," said firefighter Dave Walsh.

FOX 32 sat down at the Chicago Fire Academy with nine members of the firefighting family, which is just the start.

Since 1891, there has always been a Hughes family member on the Chicago Fire Department -- 50 in all, five generations -- starting with the grandfather of family patriarch 93-year-old Jack Hughes.

"He was a great, big presence. He commanded the room when he walked in. He was always jovial, good natured as I remember him," Jack said.

Family legend says James Hughes was inspired to become a firefighter after watching Chicago burn to the ground as a kid in 1871.

"They grew up down the street from here and saw the--lived the Great Chicago Fire. And that affected them," Jerry Hughes said.

When asked what is it about firefighting that's in the Hughes' family DNA, Jack Hughes said, "Grandpa started it all and his sons were firemen. So it just trickled down."

Jack fought on Iwo Jima during the war, and then started fighting fires in 1950 -- putting in 39 years.

"It's a tough act to follow. Guys like my Uncle Jack and his brother Uncle Jim, Walter and the rest. They kinda set the ground rules," Dave Walsh said.

A Hughes has fought every major Chicago fire since the Iroquois Theater burned down in 1903, killing 600 people.

There's Captain Jim Hughes at the Chicago stockyards fire in 1934, another Hughes was one of the first to arrive at the Our Lady of the Angels fire in 1958, and Jack Hughes battled the fire that destroyed the first McCormick Place in 1967.

"Them are the fires that are out of hand before you get there," Jack Hughes said.

There has been tragedy, too.

In 1955, James Hughes was in line to become Chicago Fire Commissioner when he rushed into the burning Mill Green Hotel to help save a buried firefighter. He died of a heart attack and was given a hero's burial. His badge is now among those of the fallen at the academy.

"We have the wall of badges to remind us. We learn the hard way," Jerry Hughes said.

As the latest class of recruits trains at the academy, the Hughes family hopes their tradition of service continues.

"What we're here for is to make a difference, protecting life and property. It's more than just a job, collecting a check," Jerry said. "It's a story that the people in Chicago should know. Maybe some kid will become a firefighter watching this. Hopefully he's a Hughes."