Woog’s World: The unsung heroes of Westport
Andrew Kingsbury retired this week. Westport’s fire chief spent over 30 years in the department that hired him while still in college. We’ve been the only employer he’s had, and he served our town well.
He made it a point to go to every house fire and to make sure his firefighters were trained in tiny details — like placing family pictures in desk drawers so they’re not damaged by water — that make an enormous impact during times of stress. He handled budgets, equipment, technology, inspections, education and much more. He did it not just for the residents, employees and visitors here, but for Interstate 95, the Merritt Parkway and Metro-North, which the Westport Fire Department also serves.
As fire chief, Kingsbury had another duty: director of emergency management. Hurricanes, floods, blizzards — all are part of his portfolio. Just another day in paradise or, at least, another day at work.
Kingsbury did it all — quietly, effectively and compassionately. He’s a low-key guy, never seeking the spotlight and happy to make sure everyone else’s contributions were noticed. He was one of Westport’s unsung heroes.
But he’s far from the only one. Our town is filled with men and women who day after day, week after week, year after year, do more than “get the job done.” They make Westport great (and not “again.” They keep it great, because so many have been here for so long).
A lot of our unsung heroes work in government. I would not call Jim Marpe “unsung,” because he is so visible. First selectman is an important job, and he does it well. But two other selectmen — Avi Kaner and Helen Garten — toil hard behind the scenes. They earn a few pennies for their “part-time” work, yet they weigh in on many of the tougher decisions. They bring their own independent views to the Town Hall table. They are always accessible. Like Marpe, they truly have our citizens’ best interests at heart.
Steve Edwards is director of Public Works. That’s an enormous job, affecting every aspect of our infrastructure. Roads, water, trash — it’s all in the DPW domain. The fact you don’t usually think about those things means he does his job beautifully. That’s exactly the way he likes it, thank you very much. He may be embarrassed by this public shout-out to Public Works, but he — and his superb staff — deserve far more than that.
If you’ve ever had a health issue, you’ve probably been treated by EMS. Westport’s Emergency Medical Services is one of our town jewels. Part paid, part volunteer and 100 percent amazing, the organization does far more than provide aid, reassurance and trips to the hospital. Staff undergo constant training and recertification. They’re on standby at big events. They even fundraise to buy their own equipment.
Overseeing it all is Marc Hartog. You may not know his name. Like so many of our unsung heroes, that’s fine with him. What matters most to Hartog is that citizens are safe and healthy, and when we’re not, that his crew is ready to help.
I’m not sure whether to call Foti Koskinas “unsung” or not. Police chief is a high- profile role, and Foti gets some pretty good press. Just last week, while checking on projects at the Greens Farms railroad station, he nailed two guys trying to cash fraudulent money orders. He’s the Cory Booker of law enforcement. But the chief — or Foti, as he prefers to be called — always makes sure the praises of his officers are sung. So he gets the “unsung” title, too.
Among the least noticed — but hardest-working, and most effective — town employees are the folks at Human Services. Sarah Heath, Elaine Daignault, Patty Haberstroh and Sue Pfister may not be names most Westporters know, but the men, women and children they affect through counseling, fuel and financial and clothing assistance, housing the Senior Center, and tons more know they quite literally would not be here without Human Services’ help.
My list of unsung heroes has, so far, been filled with public servants, but the private sector is loaded with them, too. I started to make a list — Jeff Wieser, of Homes With Hope; Al DiGuido, of Al’s Angels; Joe Valiante, who does tax returns for the elderly; business owners like the Mitchells, Gaults, Pete Romano and Jimmy Izzo who are always there for all of us — but I realized I could never list them all.
I hope that is OK. Then again, knowing these heroes, I’m sure it is. They’re unsung. So long as they’re doing whatever they do, they’re happy to stay that way.