‘He was a fireman’s fireman’: Former Franklin fire chief dies at 82

Hugh DePew, a 35-year career firefighter and served as Franklin’s fire chief from 1992 to 2000, died Monday. He was 82.

DePew was part of a group of retired men who would go to breakfast each Tuesday and afterward go with his older brother to local grocery stores to pick up surplus groceries for the Franklin Food Pantry.

Wilburn DePew, 84, said his brother had been sick for a few days and was hospitalized.

“It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” Wilburn DePew said. “He was the best guy to work with and the easiest guy to get along with.”

He and his brother had always been close and worked at the local A&P grocery in the 1950s. Wilburn DePew said his brother went to work at a paper packaging plant in Middletown but later came back to work for the Franklin Street Department in 1968 and became a volunteer firefighter. In addition, Hugh DePew served in the Ohio National Guard for four years.

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After 18 years as a part-timer, Hugh DePew landed a full-time position in March 1982, earning $3 a run.

Wilburn DePew said his brother Hugh was active with the Franklin Food Pantry, the local Safety Council and was an avid golfer.

When Wilburn DePew became the city’s fire chief, in 1988, his brother became the assistant chief. Four years later, Hugh DePew became the fire chief.

Wilburn said during his brother’s tenure as fire chief, the first woman was hired as a part-time firefighter and Franklin’s firefighters voted to unionize. The department added a pumper, a ladder truck and rescue truck in addition to a fire safety trailer and a full-time fire inspection service.

After the city and the union reached their first agreement in 1997, Hugh DePew told the Middletown Journal, “Both sides did a remarkable job. And the best part is that we remained friends afterward.”

After DePew retired, the city hired Jonathan Westendorf as the new fire chief.

“He was a ‘fireman’s fireman,’” Westendorf said. “He had a great relationship with the firefighters and created a family environment.”

Westendorf said Franklin firefighters will erect a flag in DePew’s honor.

Hugh DePew is survived by Janette, his wife of 32 years, seven children, 22 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren , nieces and nephews.

Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the Franklin Church, 704 S. River St. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Franklin Food Pantry.

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