Jun. 19—EAST LYME — With the easing of coronavirus restrictions, new hires within East Lyme fire services are getting the attention they deserve.
New full-time firefighters Matt Fergione of Flanders Fire Department and John Reitmeyer of Niantic Fire Department finally had their pinning ceremony last Tuesday after starting their jobs months earlier.
Flanders Fire Chief Chris Taylor said the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented the departments from holding the ceremonial welcome earlier. "Now that things have loosened up a little bit, we had to do something to honor them," he said.
Taylor, a former East Lyme fire marshal who resigned in 2019, also started as the department's chief amid the pandemic back in October.
Taylor said Fergione, of Groton, joined the Flanders crew in mid-April. The department now has four full-time and seven part-time firefighters, as well as 30 volunteers.
Fergione, 33, spent 10 years in the U.S. Army before transferring to the Rhode Island National Guard in 2017. He told The Day that's when he started "hanging out" with friends at the Flanders department.
"As they kept going out on runs, I would kind of close up for them. Then I'd leave. And one day they just slid me an application and I joined," he said.
According to town records, he was honored by his peers with the East Lyme Firefighter of the Year Award for 2019.
After several years as a volunteer, he was presented with another opportunity: the physical test to make him eligible for the hiring list. He took the department up on that, too.
"I was deployed overseas when the job offer came in," he said, detailing more than 10 months spent at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, followed by stints guarding the Rhode Island State House and then at a coronavirus vaccination clinic.
Fergione, who attended East Lyme High School and served as a junior volunteer in Niantic at the time, is currently a staff sergeant with the Rhode Island National Guard in company operations.
His time as a full-time firefighter in East Lyme has so far included two large fires that happened last month in the span of four days, one on Partridge Court and the other at Atlantic Building Products on Boston Post Road.
"Firefighting can be inherently dangerous if you're not careful enough. We were very fortunate that no one was hurt in either fire. Everyone that responded from both departments did a great job," he said.
Fergione is married with two boys: a 9-year-old and an almost 9-month-old. He was pinned at the ceremony by his older son.
Reitmeyer, 22, started in Niantic back in October. A volunteer with the department since he was 16, he worked his way up to a paid part-time position before getting hired as a full-timer. He was pinned by his mother, Corey Hassett.
"It's a great crew to be with," he said. "I like having a career that I can go to work every day and enjoy it."
There are five paid, full-time firefighters at the Niantic Fire Department, six part-timers and about 20 volunteers, according to Chief Jim Barone.
Reitmeyer said he is finishing up his studies at the University of New Haven in paramedicine. He works Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. He said a typical day could include anywhere from three to five ambulance runs in between cleaning the firehouse and doing maintenance checks.
Then there are the fire calls.
"It's nice to have a job with meaning but you're still able to have a little danger in life," he said.