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Patriarch of W. Chicago firefighter family dies
By Jack Komperda | Daily Herald Staff

James A. Hamlin, a former fire chief of the West Chicago Fire Protection District, died Saturday at age 80. This picture was taken in 1961.


Photo courtesy of the Hamlin family.

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Published: 7/8/2008 12:05 AM

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The day Scott Hamlin was sworn in as a West Chicago firefighter five years ago, his father, Michael, got the honor of pinning the badge on his son.

But Michael, a lieutenant with the West Chicago Fire Protection District, turned right around and passed the badge to his own father, James.

"Obviously, he was a big influence on my decision to become a firefighter," Michael Hamlin said. "Having all three generations together was a great moment."

James Hamlin died Saturday following a long illness. The longtime West Chicago resident and the town's first paid fire chief was 80.

Hamlin was instrumental in the local fire district's transition from a volunteer fire department to a professional fire district.

"He was our chief, and he was a good guy," said West Chicago Deputy Chief Robert Hodge, who was hired by Hamlin in 1978. "He always had an open door and was very approachable."

James Hamlin began his career in 1954 as a volunteer firefighter. He quickly showed his mettle and was elected by his peers as an assistant chief in 1958. Two years later, he was elected to head the volunteer fire department.

"Boy, he was really knowledgeable about fighting fires," Hodge said. "He had a sixth sense about things when there was a fire in a building. I remember as a young firefighter he always seemed to be one step ahead of everybody else."

Hamlin was hired as the first fire chief after the district transitioned to a paid staff in 1968. He held that title for the next 18 years.

Both his son, Michael, and grandson, Scott, followed in those footsteps.

"We're very proud of that tradition," Michael Hamlin said. "It was a little hard to hear people complaining about the boss, but everybody respected him."

Hamlin is survived by his wife, Virginia, son, Michael, three daughters, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 3 to 8 p.m. today at Williams-Woodward Funeral Home, 820 Pine St., West Chicago. A fire service walk-through will begin at 7 p.m.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, located at 0S233 Church St. in Winfield.

Burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery in West Chicago, located at the intersection of Easton Avenue and Washington Street.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the West Chicago Fire Protection District or to the Salvation Army.