Keith Sabatino officially took over as Fort Lee Fire Chief on Jan. 1, when Mark Sulcov became Deputy Fire Chief and former department chief William Chiappane became Battalion Chief of the . All three were officially sworn in and took the oaths of office Thursday—along with First and Second Lieutenants and Captains of the borough’s all-volunteer fire department—at a special ceremony at before the regular meeting of the Fort Lee Mayor and Council.
Sabatino replaces 2011 Fire Chief Jeff Silver, who was unable to attend the ceremony because of the death of a fellow firefighter in another town.
Sabatino called 2011 “another busy year for the Fort Lee Fire Department,” which handled 1,696 calls.
“Most of them [were] not so exciting,” he said. “But exciting or not, we respond to them all.”
Striking a more personal tone, Sabatino thanked fathers of firefighters for their “legacy,” saying, “Being a firefighter is in my blood.”
He said he followed in the footsteps of his own father, who served for 25 years with the Hibernia Fire Department in Rockaway Township.
Fort Lee’s new fire chief talked about the commitment and sacrifices necessary to be a firefighter and said, “There is a big difference between becoming a volunteer fireman and being a firefighter.
“To be a firefighter, you really need to have a passion for helping others any time of the day or night, whether or not you feel like running out in the bitter cold, the pouring rain, the summer heat, you do it without even thinking,” Sabatino said, adding that missed holidays, birthday parties, anniversaries, kids’ sporting events and dinners are par for the course when it comes to doing what firefighters do.
“But we do it without question,” he said. “We willingly give up our time so we can continue to be firefighters,” he added of the constant training required of firemen.
It’s not just about putting out fires though, Sabatino said, noting that Fort Lee’s firefighters “help in so many other ways,” from “literally cats in trees,” to flooded basements, to carbon monoxide emergencies and downed power lines.
“The residents of Fort Lee and anyone who travels through this town should feel safe and sleep well knowing that when they dial 911, they have the best fire department responding to help them with whatever needs they have at any time of the day or night,” Sabatino said.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich commended Silver for his dedication to the department over the course of the previous year, saying, “I’ve been truly, truly blessed to be able to serve with incredibly dedicated, educated, loyal, committed chiefs of this department.”
Sokolich said that among the “qualifications” one needs to be a fire chief are “absolute, utmost loyalty to your firefighters,” the ability to “advocate for your entire department” and to be a “spokesperson for all.”
“You have to have absolute love and compassion for your community,” Sokolich said. “And I believe all of those characteristics where adhered to and, in fact, were practiced by Chief Silver.”
Sabatino called the fire department an “extended family.”
“There’s nothing more comforting than knowing that standing behind you, you have 130 of the most highly trained brothers and sisters to fall back on if something happens,” he said. “There is a saying in the fire service: ‘Everyone goes home.’ Please, let’s have a safe year.”
Below is a list of all the 2012 Fort Lee Fire Department officers sworn in Thursday:
Keith Sabatino, Chief, Co. #2; Mark Sulcov, Deputy Chief, Co. #3; William Chippane, Battalion Chief, Co.#4
Captain: Chris Ipek; 1st Lt.: Tom Piper; 2nd Lt.: Richard Onufrey*
Captain: Gary Krautmann; 1st Lt.: Don Sauvageot; 2nd Lt: John Klein
Captain: Lane Goldstein; 1st Lt: Bryan Drumgoole*; 2nd Lt: Eric Jaikissoon
Captain: Steve Piccinich; 1st Lt: Chris Richter 2nd Lt: Pat Peluso
*Drumgoole and Onufrey were not present for the event.