Person of the Week
Paul Fazzino, Sr.: Fire Fighter and Now Grand Marshal
Closing in on 50 years of service to the Essex Volunteer Fire Department, Paul Fazzino, Sr., and his wife (and fellow volunteer) Jeannine will be grand marshals of the Ivoryton Fourth of July Parade. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)
You know what they say: location, location, location. And that, Paul Fazzino, Sr., says, explains his early enthusiasm for firefighting. He grew up “almost next door” to the fire house in Ivoryton.
He remembers running over to see what was happening as the firefighters left for a call.
“I wanted to drive the red truck,” he says.
Paul, who has twice served as fire chief in Essex, and his wife Jeanine, also a member of the Essex Fire Department, will be the grand marshals of the upcoming Ivoryton Fourth of July Parade. The parade will step off at 10 a.m. along Ivoryton Main Street with ceremonies to follow on the Ivoryton Green.
The Essex Fire Department, founded in 1833, is the second-oldest continuously operating fire department in Connecticut. It is made up entirely of volunteers, both men and women. According to Paul, residents who come to town from larger communities often assume that the fire fighters are a paid staff.
“They don’t realize we are volunteers,” Paul emphasizes.
And recruiting volunteers, Paul says, is a continuing challenge for not only for the Essex department, but for volunteer fire companies nationally.
He says there was a time when more members of the Essex department worked locally, making them more available for fire calls.
“The lack of volunteers is happening all around us. There used to be more,” he says. “We need volunteers during the day. If nobody volunteers, there is no protection.”
Nonetheless, Paul points out that fire department coverage is assured by cooperation among neighboring departments, through the 12-town Valley Shore Mutual Aid Association. Paul is president of the association.
He adds that some towns have hired a professional firefighting staff to supplement volunteers, but Paul does not favor hiring a paid staff.
“Once you do that, people start to think, ‘Why should I volunteer?’ Volunteering goes way down,” he explains.
It is the opportunity to provide assistance to people that makes the volunteer work meaningful.
“You see people at a very difficult time. Then later you see them and they say, ‘You helped me,’’ Paul says. “That makes it all worthwhile.”
Paul emphasizes that both men and women from all walks of life within the community have volunteered and he notes there are many different jobs, all with appropriate training, in the fire department
He recalls a time when a local minister and a local funeral director were both volunteers.
“If somebody woke up and saw a minister and an undertaker, we’d tell them, ‘It’s okay; everything is all right,’” he says.
Paul was a member of the fire department in 1982 when, after three days of extremely heavy rain, the Falls River Dam failed on June 5, leading to serious flooding in many parts of the town.
Paul recalls people stranded on rooftops and one resident who tried to escape the rising water by emptying the dirt out of a rowboat that had been used as a planter. It didn’t float. Still, Paul says though there was critical damage, there was no loss of life.
Paul will never forget the day, not only because of the flood, but because it was the second birthday of his son Paul, Jr., who has also served as fire chief, the only father-son combination as chiefs in the department’s history. Paul and Jeanine’s younger son Brandon is a member of the department as well.
Today, Paul says that more that some 60 to 65 percent the department’s calls are for emergencies other than fires. That category, he explains, can be anything from a fall to medical emergency. The department is the first responder in such situations. The department also responds in traffic accidents, including those on Route 9 and I-91.
Paul, 69, has served as training officer, deputy engineer, and assistant chief as well as chief. At the moment, he is chief engineer. This, he says, will be his last position.
“You know when I smell the smoke, I’m trained to go in, but then I have to think to myself, don’t be stupid,” he adds.
According to current fire chief Andrew Kressley, an oral surgeon in Old Saybrook, Paul remains a key member of the department.
“His knowledge and behind-the-scene leadership as a past chief is invaluable. He is the person I go to for guidance on many issues and he manages our entire fleet of apparatus,” Kressley noted.
For Paul, the key to his 49 years of service is not simply his own commitment to the fire department. It is his wife Jeanine. He thinks of the calls he has responded to over the years that interrupted holidays, family celebrations, even a good night’s sleep.
“I could never have done what I did alone,” he says. “I could never have done it without her.”
Those interested in more information about joining the Essex Fire Department can visit www.essexctfire.org/membership or call 860-767-1258.
Ivoryton Fourth of July Parade
The Ivoryton Fourth of July Parade is on Monday, July 4 at 10 a.m. on Ivoryton Main Street; ceremonies and band concert follow on the Ivoryton Green. Children on non-motorized bicycles and participants on foot should gather at the corner of Walnut and Main streets in Ivoryton at 9:30 a.m. Marchers with animals on leashes are welcome. Vehicles should meet at the old Pratt Read Factory on Cheney Street at 9:30 a.m.