HARWICH — There will be a change in command at the fire department Saturday, with longtime firefighter and Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr. retiring after 43 years of service.
“From a very young age it was my dream to be a firefighter,” Clarke wrote in a letter to selectmen when announcing his retirement several months ago. “That dream was realized on July 17, 1977 when Chief Charles Hall appointed me to the Harwich Fire Department. It has been a privilege to serve the board of selectmen and the citizens of this great town of Harwich. I believe and certainly hope my efforts as a members of the department over the last 43 years have made it better than when I arrived.”
Deputy Fire Chief David LeBlanc will be the next fire chief. LeBlanc has served in the department the past 27 years, the last four years as deputy. In keeping with a lengthy tradition, selectmen in May voted to appoint LeBlanc to follow in Clarke’s footsteps.
There will be a Change of Command Ceremony on Saturday, July 18 at 9 a.m. at the Robert A. Peterson Firehouse on Sisson Road. At that time LeBlanc will be sworn in as fire chief. There will also be a few other promotions in the department at that time. Captain Craig Thornton will be sworn in as deputy fire chief, Justyne Walorz will become a captain and Brad Willis the new lieutenant.
Residents of the community are invited to meet with Chief Clarke on Friday, his last day, at the fire headquarters on Sisson Road from 9 a.m. to noon for a cup of coffee and to share memories. Social distancing and masks are a requirement, LeBlanc said.
“Life’s been good. I was born to be a firefighter and I will die one,” Clarke said of the job he has enjoyed. “Walking away will be difficult because I’ve worked with great people in a great community. While 43 years is enough, there is more I will miss than won’t. I’ve been blessed. I’ve lived the dream and I leave with mixed emotions.”
Clarke said he has a lot of projects he wants to work on around his house and wants to spend more time at home with family. He’s ready to enjoy the next chapter of his life, he said. What he will not miss is the pager waking him up seven days a week and late-night responses.
Reflecting on his 43 years in the department, Clarke said there have been changes in the culture of being a firefighter. Years ago there was no emphasis on fitness and health and he remembers riding to fires on the rear step of the fire trucks or in open cabs. Technology and the standards with which people are held have changed, as has the importance of having both males and females in the department.
As for words of wisdom for the new fire chief, Clarke said: “Remember who you work for and that you serve the people, and don’t forget where you came from. There will be new ideas and new energy. The new leadership will be terrific and take the fire department into the future with great success.”
“The best thing about internal promotions is you can move ahead without skipping a beat,” LeBlanc said when asked plans for changes moving forward. The soon-to-be new chief said Clarke has left the department in great shape, with the new East Harwich station and equipment the chief fought for over the years.
LeBlanc said he will continue working to develop younger personnel, pointing out the department has lost a number of longtime members in the past five years and has become on average a lot younger. He said more training will be necessary to address that loss of experience. He emphasized his love of teaching, pointing out he has done a lot of training under Chief Clarke over the past five years.
“You try to leave the department better than you found it,” LeBlanc said. “But we’re in a good spot now. I couldn’t be taking it over at a better time.
“Everything he did for those 43 years, I’ll do going forward because it was a furtherance of me and now I have to do that going forward,” LeBlanc said of Chief Clarke. “He put his stamp on this department and left it all in great shape.”