WESTPORT — To an audience speckled with police officers and firefighters in uniform and packed with beaming families, Westport Fire promoted its largest-ever group of members this year at a town hall ceremony June 2.

This year’s annual promotional ceremony followed a wave of retirements that paved the way for 13 promotions. The last time the fire department had a large number of members leave in a single year was 2003, according to Chief Robert Yost, and at the time the department staffed fewer leadership positions.

“I’m proud of all you guys,” said Deputy Chief Robert Kepchar during the afternoon ceremony. He added he was proud to see the firefighters rise through the ranks.

Kepchar is among those set to retire from the department, though he will continue in an advisory role until later this year to help the department transition through its leadership shifts. Fire Marshal Edward Zygmant retired last week, and former Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury retired earlier this year. Yost took over as chief March 1. He had previously served as an assistant chief.

During the June 2 promotional ceremony, Yost gave each member individual advice for his new role. Among those promoted was Nathaniel Gibbons, a lifelong Westporter who began volunteering with the department in 1987 before becoming a career firefighter in 1995. Gibbons, also a fire inspector for over a decade, was promoted to fill Zygmant’s former role as fire marshal.

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Westport Fire’s 2017 promotions

Nathaniel Gibbons, Fire Marshal

Matthew Cohen, Assistant Chief

Jeffrey Gootman, Assistant Chief

Brett Kirby, Assistant Chief

Richard Calabria, Fire Inspector

Todd Denke, Lieutenant

Joseph Arnson, Lieutenant

Nicholas Marsan, Lieutenant

Brendan McHugh, Lieutenant

Kevin Dumas, Lieutenant

Michael Grasso, Lieutenant

Daniel Mascolo, Lieutenant

Tobias Ostapchuk, Lieutenant

After friends or family pinned each of the members with a mark of their promotion and First Selectman Jim Marpe swore each firefighter into his new rank, Gibbons thanked fellow department members, his family, the town and Westport’s taxpayers. He vowed to serve the town and its residents but foremost to serve his fellow Westport firefighters.

“I will always be honest,” Gibbons pledged to firefighters. “Be honest back to me.”

He preached respect and mutual trust as well as a safety-first approach and urged firefighters to always raise their voice when they have criticisms.

Receiving promotions to assistant chief were Matthew Cohen, Jeffrey Gootman and Brett Kirby. Richard Calabria was promoted to fire inspector. Firefighters Todd Denke, Joseph Arnson, Nicholas Marsan, Brendan McHugh, Kevin Dumas, Michael Grasso, Daniel Mascolo and Tobias Ostapchuk were sworn in as lieutenants.

After the ceremony, Grasso’s father, Michael R. Grasso, said his son had worked hard and earned “every bit” of the lieutenant rank. A 36-year member of Ridgefield’s fire department and its fire marshal, Michael R. Grasso donned his own uniform as he placed a promotional pin on his son’s.

“I’m thrilled and very proud of my son,” Michael R. Grasso said.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16