For nearly a half-century, Hubert Jones has committed to helping protect the city of Hernando from fires and other life-threatening emergencies.
Tuesday, Jones left his office for the last time as the city’s fire chief, completing a 47-year firefighting career, 27 of which have been served as the department’s fire chief.
With Jones’ retirement, Hernando officials now start the search for a new leader of the fire department, said Mayor Tom Ferguson, who has known Jones for most of the mayor’s life.
“We have posted the position internally,” Ferguson said. “We should start interviews in the next week or so. We’ll be absent a chief for now but I have confidence in our deputy chief and he’ll do a good job in the meantime.”
Deputy Fire Chief Marshal Berry will oversee the department in the interim until a new fire chief is named.
When Jones first started fighting fires, firefighters serving the city did so as volunteers. When he and his wife moved to Hernando from Memphis, his first try at being on the department failed because he was too young, not even age 21.
However, Jones later joined the force as a matter of convenience… for those already there.
“In October in 1973, all of them would go deer hunting between October and March,” Jones said. “They conned me into being a volunteer then because I would be in town so there would be somebody in town to fight fires while they went deer hunting. I actually got voted on the department in March 1974 when they had the next election.”
It was a relative of some of his young friends in high school who first wanted Jones to get into public service as a member of the Memphis Fire Department.
“When I graduated out of high school I had two friends and their uncle was on the Memphis Police Department,” Jones explained. “He wanted me to get on the Memphis Fire Department because his two nephews were on there and we ran around together.”
Jones was a 1970 graduate of Olive Branch High School.
It was in 1993 that Jones became the fire chief in Hernando and he quickly set about making the volunteer firefighters become paid ones.
“I organized and set up the paid fire department here because we didn’t have any daytime firemen to fight fires,” Jones said. “So I hired four people at first, for 10-hour days. Then we went from that to a full schedule like the city of Memphis has.”
Jones was asked about a significant moment in his firefighting career and he quickly detailed a tragic fire in 1975 that could have been even more tragic. He called it “the DeSoto Gas Company fire.”
“A truck driver overfilled a tank and the gas ran down a ditch and ignited a pilot light at a house,” Jones explained. “It killed one person and five more were burned. That was one of the worst fires we’ve had.”