A New Fire Chief For Chatham

By: Alan Pollock

Flanked by his family, Justin Tavano is sworn in as Chatham’s next fire chief. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO 

CHATHAM — In a time-honored tradition, there was a change of command at the Chatham Fire Department last Wednesday when retiring Chief David DePasquale stepped down to make way for his successor, Justin Tavano.

With a large crowd of supporters on hand, the department also promoted a new deputy, a new captain and a new lieutenant, filling the ranks vacated by Tavano’s advancement.

DePasquale said he was moved by the large crowd assembled on the apparatus floor of the firehouse, saying it was filled with “a lot of people who just mean so much to me.” After 33 years as a Chatham firefighter and a long tenure as a line officer, DePasquale decided to step down to focus on his family and his own wellness. He had many people to thank for supporting him during his career in the fire service.

“There’s a ton of mentors in this group,” he said. He also thanked his wife and children for tolerating missed holidays and endless interruptions from the fire radio over the years.

“That’s a tough thing for the whole family,” he said.

DePasquale took command of the department in 2020 as the pandemic began. With support from the community, diligence and creative ingenuity by department members, Chatham firefighters were well positioned to respond during COVID-19, when transmission of the virus and the risk to responders was not yet well known.

He leaves a department that is well staffed, having hired seven new firefighters to fill spots that included four new shift positions, in “the toughest labor market I can remember,” and a time of few training opportunities for new firefighters. He thanked Town Manager Jill Goldsmith, the select board and the finance committee for their support over the years “to always give us the tools that we need.” DePasquale also thanked his fellow town department heads and the members of his staff.

“I can’t be more proud of you and I love you all,” he said. The chief said he’s also keen to see how the department grows and evolves under new leadership. “It’s going to be very exciting,” he said.

Offering her blessing, Fire Chaplain Kate Galop gave thanks for DePasquale’s “dedication and commitment” during an era of “unexpected challenges.” She prayed that Tavano meets the high standards set by the former chief and the chiefs who came before. “And may he always remember where he came from,” Galop added.

Goldsmith presented DePasquale with citations and a proclamation, and they shared a hug.

Tavano thanked his predecessors, including Chief Michael Ambriscoe, who hired him as a call firefighter more than 20 years ago.

“From day one, he encouraged me to continue my education,” he said. Tavano also thanked the late Deputy Chief Dick Hunter, who passed away in June and who was known for his no-nonsense manner. “We miss him. We wish he could be here today,” the new chief said. Tavano also thanked DePasquale for taking the unusual step of promoting a lieutenant to become his deputy. “He took a huge, unorthodox leap of faith,” Tavano said. And in preparing Tavano to become chief, “he gave me all the room I needed to grow.”

The new chief thanked the members of his department for their support after a promotion process that can be motivating, inspiring, and inevitably for some, disappointing. By giving their all during that process, they elevated the entire department. “You are what has brought the bar to where it is,” he said.

Tavano also thanked his wife and children and his parents, who supported his decision to abandon a career in finance to become a firefighter. His parents also set a fine example with their own civic engagement and community service, “doing good for others.”

Tavano announced his choice of Capt. Ryan Clarke to serve as the new deputy chief, citing his passion, training and experience in the fire service. Firefighting is in Clarke’s blood; his uncle and cousin are firefighters and his father, Norman, is the retired Harwich fire chief. The elder Clarke gave his son a helmet with a deputy chief’s shield.

Taking Clarke’s position as captain is former lieutenant Ryan Holmes, another Harwich native and 1998 graduate of Harwich High School. Firefighter Tim Hunter, son of the late deputy, was promoted to lieutenant. New firefighter Kristen Taylor also received her badge during the ceremony.

Tavano offered advice to the newly promoted members, people he described as “career-long learners.”

“You will absolutely make mistakes,” he said. The objective is to grow from those experiences and to be confident when called upon to make tough decisions at critical times.

‘You’re being put in this role because you’ve earned it. Do not doubt yourself,” he said.