Tallmadge fire chief retires after nearly 50 years of service
When Tallmadge Fire Chief Michael Passarelli volunteered as a firefighter in 1975, things were different.
“I was paying $3 a year for dues back then,” he laughed. “We used to ride on the tailgate of fire engines back then. Looking back, it was so dangerous.”
Now, almost 50 years later, he is retiring from the department on September 30, beginning a new chapter in his life that he describes as bittersweet.
“Tallmadge is my home,” he said. “I grew up here, I know the people. Serving my community has been an honor and a privilege.”
While working full-time for Henry Bierce Supply Co. in the 1970s, a colleague suggested he volunteer as a firefighter. Dave Bierce, owner of the building, was the founder of the fire department. Passarelli began attending meetings and was officially sworn in on January 20, 1975 at 11 a.m. – he still has his application documenting the start of his career.
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Passarelli said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of his wife, Patricia, and their four adult children.
“She pushed me to go full-time, to become a paramedic,” he said. “She supports me 100%.”
He said being a firefighter gave him a second family.
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“You have to understand that the work schedule on the line is a 24-hour schedule with the same people. The same team. My C-shift family. You know people’s children, you watch them grow, you watch them get married and move on. I’ve seen it all.
Although Passarelli recalled fond memories, he said some of the work was traumatic, but he and his colleagues leaned on each other for support.
Ice cream has always helped him cope with the stress of work.
“If you think of firefighters as a group, they are helpers,” he said. “They like to solve problems and help people. Whether it’s an EMS problem or a fire, we solve problems. The two words that best describe the character of a firefighter would be loyalty and integrity.”
Passarelli climbs the ladder
Since his pinning ceremony 47 years ago, Passarelli has won a number of accolades. He became a paramedic in 1979 and a fire inspector in 1982.
In 2006, he was promoted to battalion commander and also became an assistant EMS instructor. He was promoted to deputy fire chief in January 2015. For the past seven years, he has led the department as chief.
“I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in our fire department,” he said. “Watching the department grow is something I’m extremely proud of. I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish as a chief and I think I saw it all crossed out.”
Passarelli said six additional firefighters were hired earlier this year. And, more recently, the department is preparing to open a new station, which it hopes to see open before its retirement at the end of September.
“The station was built in 1952 and was really just a garage to begin with,” he said. “But this new station brings a lot. It will also be a training center and will accommodate six vehicles inside. It’s huge for the department and the city.”
One of Passarelli’s most recent professional adventures was fighting wildfires in the west of the country as a medical unit chief. He said he’s been to every state west of the Mississippi River except Hawaii and Alaska.
“There was an incident in Minnesota where we had to canoe over an island to get to work,” he said. “Working there is my other love. It’s just beautiful.”
While in retirement, Passarelli said he plans to travel west again, complete renovations to his home, and spend more time with his wife, children, and seven grandchildren.
Above all, Passarelli said he would miss the community and camaraderie of firefighters.
“I’m going to miss coming in at 7 a.m. and sitting at our table and listening to everyone talking to each other,” he said. “At this table is where we solve the world’s problems. I won’t have that anymore but I can’t wait to see what happens when I’m gone.”