As is his style, City of Batavia Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano humbly took a bow Monday night as he prepares to move on to a New York State-level position next month, while giving all the credit for his success to his employees and thanking city management and staff for the opportunity to serve over the past four years.
“It has been amazing times and tough times, but through it all I was successful because of my team over there,” Napolitano said, pointing to the 10 firefighters who came to the City Council meeting in honor of their chief. “I’m just the guy that signs the payroll -- I point a little bit and throw an idea out -- but it’s the staff here in the City of Batavia Fire Department that makes everything happen.”
Napolitano quickly endeared himself to city leaders and residents after accepting the position in April 2017, relocating after a productive career as deputy fire chief for the Village of Herkimer.
City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. called Napolitano, a Queens native, a great leader and said he will be missed.
“Hopefully, we’ll be seeing you back and helping out in our area, and I wish you all the best,” Jankowski said.
City Manager Rachael Tabelski thanked Napolitano for his work.
“I’ve only had the pleasure of working with you for about two years, but they’ve been great years,” she said. “You really are a true leader to your staff – and everyone here is a testament (to that).”
LEAVING IS ‘VERY BITTERSWEET’
Moved by a standing ovation from all in attendance, Napolitano quickly deflected any credit away from himself.
“They (his staff) allowed me to come in here four years ago; didn’t know anything about me, a transplant from 175 miles away,” he said. “They immediately accepted me and it’s been a great partnership – relationship. I’m fortunate to say that I know pretty much all of their family members.”
Napolitano said the situation is “very bittersweet.”
“This job is an opportunity to serve more firefighters at the state level, but it’s very bittersweet leaving my new home,” he said.
On July 19, he begins his new job as deputy state fire administrator, working out of an office in a building on the State University of Albany campus. The state position is affiliated with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. His final day in Batavia is July 9.
He said he expects to do a fair amount of traveling in his new position and likely will be back at some point. He then thanked city management and staff.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure and honor, and I thank everyone.”
HERBERGER TO STEP IN
Tabelski then announced the appointment of Capt. Dan Herberger as interim fire chief – a position that Herberger held for 16 months before Napolitano was hired.
Herberger has climbed up the ranks, joining the department as a paramedic in 2002 before being promoted to firefighter in 2005, lieutenant in 2012 and captain in 2013.
Contacted this morning, Herberger said he’s prepared to take the reins on an interim basis, but is in an exploration stage as far as the permanent position is concerned.
“There were two other captains that were interested and we did a lot of talking amongst ourselves … so, at this point I’m really exploring – again – the position,” he said. “You know, a lot has changed with me in four years but a lot hasn’t changed with me in four years, with family situation and the like.”
He said he’s looking at the full-time chief position “very critically and taking all points of interest in.”
Married with three children, ages 17, 13 and 11, the Lancaster resident said he’s coming in to the interim role objectively and was willing to “take another crack at it.”
Speaking of the two other captains, Herberger, 47, said they decided to talk to Tabelski individually and let the process play out. He said no timetable has been set as far as when the permanent position is filled.
“We have some meetings coming up with Chief Napolitano during the transition, but we haven’t got into anything much past that,” he said. “I’m sure that eventually Rachael and I will sit down and discuss the details (of the chief’s position).”
Herberger said he has always desired to be a part of the community he serves, never wanting his place of residence to interfere with his responsibilities in Batavia.
KEY IS TREATING PEOPLE RIGHT
“I always try to treat people like they’re my neighbors,” he said. “Just because I live in Lancaster … I treat people like I want my mother to be treated, and that has always served me well and people accepted that.”
Napolitano said he backed Herberger, stating that he’s “a strong captain supported by a strong group. The city is very well served.”
And Herberger had nothing but good things to say about Napolitano.
“I always said that coming into a department from a different part of the state has to be difficult because you don’t know all of the inner workings … but he – I think it’s his personality – came in and really took the bull by the horns and made a conscious effort of forging relationships and putting the fire department in a positive light,” he said.
“He was open and honest with us, and even though we might not have agreed with him every time, we always appreciated that.”
Photo at top: Batavia Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano thanks city officials and staff for supporting him throughout his four-year tenure. Photo at bottom: Staff members, including Capt. Dan Herberger, second from right, attended the City Council meeting. Herberger has been appointed as interim fire chief. Photos by Mike Pettinella.