Neighbors helping neighbors: Darien fireman says his service is part of the community

Larry Castellani with daughter Morgan, age 7, and son Will, age 5.

The Darien Times is featuring a series of profiles on Darien firefighters. This is the next in the series. This weekend is Darien firefighters’ Lobster for Ladders fundraiser.

Larry Castellani is a volunteer at Darien Fire Department.

I joined the fire service in 1998, in Hamilton, N.Y. I was a freshman at Colgate University and the Hamilton Fire Department had a program for college students. A friend suggested I join, and after the first call, I was hooked. As an 18 year old, I was given a lot of responsibility very quickly, and a lot of the learning happened on the job, which was definitely part of the appeal.

Fire service is an awesome way to challenge yourself. In addition to teaching you a wide range of skills, the fire service will force you out of your comfort zone and train you to handle all sorts of scenarios under varying degrees of pressure. Prior experience in emergency services is great, but not at all required. 

Fire service is also a great way to feel part of your community. I’m lucky to remain good friends with many of the student firefighters I trained with in college and feel fortunate to operate alongside the members of the Darien Fire Department. What many people don’t realize is that more than 70% of the fire service nationwide is made up of volunteers. So fire service can be defined simply as neighbors helping neighbors.

I feel really lucky because I get to witness something many people don’t — and that is seeing the people who will drop everything or get up at 2 a.m. to help neighbors in need. There is a whole contingent of folks in this town who put the community first, who truly love the firehouse, and who will do anything for the member standing next to them. It is terrific to bear witness to.  

One of the greatest assets a volunteer can bring to the department is his or her own unique experience. The members of the Darien Fire Department have a wide array of skills and backgrounds, each uniquely valuable. We have plumbers, mechanics, bankers, students — the list goes on. Whether we are responding to an emergency or running the day-to-day operations of the department, everyone’s skill set is put to use.

Though much of the work we do here in Darien is mundane, routine calls can escalate quickly, and you never know what you’re walking into. I have had my share of difficult moments just like any other member of the fire department. Thankfully, we train constantly and prepare for all sorts of contingencies. Knowing that the men and women on the truck with you are ready for anything is very helpful when we are putting ourselves in harm’s way.

Training at DFD happens every Monday evening and we respond to calls 24/7/365. Every week is different in terms of the time demands of the department, but we simply ask that members do their best.

I have found the time demands at Darien Fire Department to be very manageable, despite working a full-time job that requires a lot of travel and an early commute to NYC. Can it be difficult at times? For sure. Importantly, I give my wife Jordan and my kids (Morgan, age 7, and Will, age 5) so much credit for being understanding and patient when I have to leave at a moment’s notice. But I have found the benefits of what we do and what we learn almost always make up for the sacrifice of time. I could only wish to give back as much as I’ve learned from the fire service.  

My advice to anyone thinking about joining is that all you need to do is give it a chance. Just show up any Monday night and we’ll get you involved. Your community needs you, and I can confidently say that if you do, the experiences you have and the friends you make will stay with you for a lifetime.   

Larry has lived in Darien for seven years and has been a volunteer fireman all that time. He is currently a lieutenant assigned to Engine 41 at the DFD.

When Larry is not volunteering he works at Strategas Research Partners, a macro-economic research firm in NYC.