CHATHAM — At just seven years of age, having battled a rare form of cancer since he was four, Jesse Nash has earned his badge of courage.
And Sunday, surrounded by friends, parents and members of the Chatham Fire Department, he literally received that badge, becoming the department’s honorary chief.
“When people think of firefighters, they think of strength, bravery and courage,” Fire Chief Peter Connick told the assembly at the fire station. “And no one can say you don’t do that every single day.”
Nash had his first treatment for neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2014. It’s been a struggle since that time, but he’s had the support of many community members, including Chatham firefighters. Two years ago, firefighters and throngs of supporters took their annual frigid April Fools swim in Nash’s honor.
Chatham Fire Lt. Justin Tavano, who helped organize Sunday’s ceremony, invited Nash to the podium in the fire department’s apparatus bay, and asked him if he’s up to the task of helping Connick as chief. He answered with a shy smile and a nod, and the room erupted in cheers.
The department presented the youngster with a red departmental shirt embroidered with “Chief Jesse,” and a tiny fire helmet with a shield reading “Chatham Fire Department Honorary Chief Nash.” He donned the shirt and hat, and there was another big cheer.
Connick presented Nash with a gold badge, which his mother pinned on. And again, more applause and cheers.
“You are now, without a doubt, the youngest chief in Barnstable, and you’re very likely the youngest fire chief in the state of Massachusetts,” Tavano told him.
“Now that you’re our chief, our station is your station, and you’re welcome here anytime. Welcome to the family, buddy,” Tavano said.
Harwich Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr., came to represent the Barnstable County Fire Chiefs’ Association.
“Chief Jesse, on behalf of all the fire chiefs on Cape Cod, you now belong to a very elite association,” Clarke said. “They said you were the strongest, and the smartest – definitely the smartest – among the bunch,” he said with a chuckle. Clarke presented him with the chiefs’ association patch, and a challenge coin and pin from his own department.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith also presented Nash with a special pin reserved for town employees.
While Nash certainly enjoyed receiving the gifts, he seemed most excited by what came next.
“I remember coming to the school and seeing your eyes light up when you saw the fire trucks and the fire gear,” Tavano told him. “And I remember after the April Fools’ swim, when the fire truck came to your house and took you for a ride down the street, seeing how excited you were.” And so, escorted by a police car and another fire engine, Nash got a ride in the department’s new ladder truck, down Main Street and Shore Road.
While he was shy standing in front of the crowd at the ceremony, “once we got into the fire truck and started driving around town, and once I showed him where the air horn was, he perked right up,” Tavano said later. “He had an ear-to-ear grin.” And when the trip was over and they returned to the fire house for refreshments, Nash was running around with the other children, having a grand time.
“He was a ball of fire,” Tavano said with a laugh. And according to his parents, he was energized when he got home, too.
“He had a pretty cool day,” Tavano said.