Fools To Freeze For Firefighter’s Fiancée

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Community events

Last year’s April Fools’ Swim saw 45 degree air temperatures with a robust wind chill, and 41 degree water temps.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — This year, the April Fools of Chatham Fire Department will lead their annual fund-raising plunge in frigid Nantucket Sound to benefit one of their own.

The swim will take place on April 1 at 4:30 p.m. at Harding’s Beach, and hundreds of people are expected to join in. This year’s event will raise funds for 28-year-old Hayley Varin, who will soon be married to Chatham Firefighter Harry Fietz. Varin was just diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma and is undergoing treatment at the Davenport Mugar Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital.

“The upcoming months will be extremely taxing on Hayley and Harry physically, emotionally and financially,” organizer Chatham Fire Lieutenant Justin Tavano said. “One hundred percent of your donations go directly to Hayley to assist her and Harry in any way they see fit. We hope to make this our biggest and best swim yet.”

While the swim always raises funds and support for local families in need, this is only the second time in its 13-year history that the fundraiser is supporting a member of the firefighting family. The first time, firefighters from around the region to support Harwich Fire Captain Robert “Bobby J” Johnson, who was also battling cancer. Participation has grown greatly since then, with many dozens of swimmers taking part each year.

“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Tavano said. People come back year after year because they like the feeling of helping out.

“There’s that sense of community we feel when we’re all on the beach,” he said. Others like the adrenaline rush of plunging in frigid water. And everyone appreciates the feeling of helping one local family “by suffering for a short period of time,” Tavano said.

The swim itself is usually over in a minute or two, given the water temperatures that are typically in the low 40s. But participants are invited to warm up at a barbecue at the Chatham VFW immediately following the swim. There will be a 50-50 raffle and other opportunities to donate; to help without swimming, send a check to the April Fools, Chatham Fire Department, 135 Depot Rd., Chatham, MA 02633. Supporters can also pitch in $20 for an event T-shirt; details are posted on the event’s Facebook page.

The April Fools’ Swim has grown over the years, and Tavano and other organizers have thought about expanding it, possibly bringing in corporate sponsors. “We go back and forth on that,” he said. “We like how local it is. Keep it simple. You put money in the box and you jump in the water.”

Chatham firefighters are doing what they can to support Firefighter Fietz and his fiancée by helping them directly and offering to work some shifts so Fietz can be with Varin during her treatments.

“Everybody here’s all in,” Tavano said. And he wouldn’t be surprised to find out that firefighters from Harwich and other surrounding towns will be taking the plunge in solidarity. That includes Orleans.

“I know we can count on the new chief there,” Tavano said with a chuckle. “Geof [Deering] is a great leader, and no doubt he’ll lead his firefighters into the water.”

For information about the event, call 508-945-2324.