HARWICH — A year ago, the fire department was dealing with a fuel tanker rollover that spilled 8,000 gallons of fuel near the entrance to the Star Market less than a half mile from the Sisson Road station. Last Saturday, the department was dealing with another rollover, but this time it was in department command.
Approximately 100 people were on hand at the Robert A. Peterson Memorial Firehouse to wish 43-year department veteran and nine-year Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr. farewell and welcome 27-year department member and Deputy Fire Chief David LeBlanc as the new chief.
Several additional department members were recognized with promotions and for completion of probation periods, making it a celebration of the strength of mentoring, molding, and personal growth that allows staff to move up the ladder of command. During the ceremony, Captain Craig Thornton was sworn in as deputy fire chief, Justyne Walorz as captain and Brad Willis as lieutenant.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine paid tribute to the tradition in a brief statement recognizing the culture of the department. Ballantine said he was proud of the way Clarke built on that culture, allowing firefighters to move up through the department.
Clarke's achievements include efforts in getting the new East Harwich fire station built, said Ballantine. He also focused on Clarke’s service to the community on a number of building committees and most recently as chairman of the town administrator search committee.
LeBlanc also recognized Clarke for the significant changes the retiring chief brought to the department since taking the reins in 2011. LeBlanc said Clarke’s fingerprints are on the mentoring, molding and growth of the department and his partnerships with other departments across the Cape.
“He never lost sight of his people, as that was the most important part of the job, whether it was the people he served or those serving,” LeBlanc said. The goal of a chief is to leave the department better than he found it, and Clarke left it “far better than he found it,” LeBlanc said.
Clarke was presented with the flag that flew over headquarters on his last day at the office on Friday. He was also presented with a proclamation from the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives honoring his 43 years of service to the town of Harwich.
During his remarks, Clarke stressed the importance of both the home and firehouse family. He thanked his wife, Janice, for the strong, loving support she provided him over the years. The firehouse family is also important in making the department better every single day, he added.
“Follow your heart, but bring you brain with you,” Clarke said as a final instruction for the firehouse family.
Speaking to his longtime friend, Chief LeBlanc, the retiring chief stressed the importance of not forgetting where you come from. That was particularly appropriate, as a group of firefighting instructors who taught with LeBlanc in training courses in Minneapolis, Minn. drove and flew hundreds of miles to show up to Saturday's ceremony in uniform.
Clarke quoted General George Patton in one last pearl of wisdom for the new chief: “Accept the challenges so you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”
“It’s been a privilege to serve this fire department for 43 years and its time to go,” Clarke said to a standing ovation.