By Bonnie Culverhouse
They describe it as “the greatest job in the world” – two retired Minden firefighters and assistant chiefs who have devoted their entire adult lives to fighting fires and saving lives. And even in their retirement, they still volunteer.
Collectively, John Tucker and Tommy John Hughes have been on the job for 80 years. Tucker took the civil service test before high school graduation; Hughes came onboard after realizing the grocery store business was not a career for him.
“If it weren’t for this man,” Hughes said, pointing to Tucker, “I would not have this job. He’s the one who convinced me to go to (Fire Chief T.C.) Bloxom and apply.”
Tucker trained in Hazmat; Hughes in fire origin.
The two remember two Kerr McGee (now Calumet) fires in the 1980s as a couple of the worst fires they fought.
“One of the tanks blew up and killed some folks,” Tucker recalled. “Felix Taylor and I had inch-and-a-halfs (hose), and we were putting out this little fire. This lead tank right beside us blew straight up a couple of miles, and it was so loud, it knocked us down. We jumped right up and ran straight into each other.”
Hughes said the Cotton Valley-based plant exploded a second time while employees were doing maintenance work.
“They think when they cranked up their saws, a spark ignited that tank and blew it up and killed three people,” Hughes said.
While they retrieved the deceased, they did not know them. It’s the ones they knew that continue to haunt them. They see their faces everywhere.
“The people you deal with that you know are the hardest,” Hughes said. “Some impact you more than others. We all deal with it in different ways. Some people don’t say anything, they just carry it with them.”
In addition to saving human lives, the two have pulled many animals out of the fire – some with a good outcome, others not so much.
“He did CPR on a cat and a dog,” Hughes said, pointing to Tucker.
“You find them in the house full of smoke and pull them out,” Tucker added. “Open their mouths and blow in them, turn them on their side give them CPR. I got dog slobber all over me.”
He remembers every one of them.
A fire department is a community, they said.
“We will argue and fight with each other, and that’s fine,” Hughes said. “But if somebody from the outside comes in here and fights you, well, you’ve got to fight all of us.”
Now that the two have retired, there are fewer practical jokes at Fire Station No. 1. Tucker was best known as perpetrator of most of those. He now drives a tour bus for Red River Tours in Shreveport.
Hughes prefers to relax in his off time and create things in his wood-working shop.
They have many great memories and stories, especially of Chief Bloxom and working in his hayfields to make ends meet. But George Mourad was their favorite fire captain.
“George was the same, no matter what,” Hughes said. “And he would do anything for you.”
Tucker said Chief Kip Mourad is like his dad.
“These guys are my best friends,” Mourad said. “When they came to me and told me they were going to retire on a certain date, I told them, ‘ok, you might be going to retire from full time, but you’re still going to be a volunteer.’”
Mourad said he and his friends are now past the age of gearing up and fighting fires. That’s for the next generation. But Tucker and Hughes still have so much to give to the department.
“Both of them have wisdom to impart on the younger ones,” Mourad said. “They can teach the young people. What you learn in your training, it’s from a book, but you get on a scene and follow either one of them, they can tell you things and teach you things you’ll never learn in a book.
“They both still love it and, like me, wish they could still do it,” he continued. “Not everybody loves it. If you do, you hate not to be able to do it anymore.”
And any given day, when Tucker is in town and Hughes isn’t busy relaxing, you can find them at Fire Station No. 1, sitting at the table Hughes made from a giant spool and a fire hydrant. They will share a cup of coffee and stories too numerous and lengthy to relate here, while reliving the best times of their lives.