Nate Gibbons: The Man Behind The Voice

Nate Gibbons is The Man.

He’s Westport’s newest — and unlikeliest — folk hero.

Who would have thought a fire inspector, giving daily post-hurricane briefings on a high school radio station, would develop such a cult following?

Westporters listened in — to loop after endless loop — just to hear his reassuring voice.

They learned important information (like generator safety) along with trivia (the difference between flotsam and jetsam*).

No one wants another natural disaster. But when it comes, Nate Gibbons’ soothing, articulate voice — packing tons of news and practical ideas into every sentence, leavened with just enough light humor to make life bearable — will be the first place Westport turns.

Here is how remarkable Nate Gibbons is: His work as Westport Fire Department public information officer — sitting in on Emergency Operations Center meetings, then conveying everything discussed by professionals to stressed-out Westporters in clear, easy-to-understand paragraphs — is not his only job.

As a fire inspector, he’s got to worry about life-and-death issues during crises. When Hurricane Sandy sent water roaring down Main Street, for instance, he knew what was happening to the electrical systems lying just below the grates. He feared massive fires, like the ones that destroyed parts of Queens. Nate pushed to cut power downtown, even before the winds picked up.

Those decisions sound like the result of a lifetime spent in the Fire Department.

Which Nate has not done.

Nate Gibbons is also an avid outdoorsman.

In high school, he was a radio DJ. After graduating from Yale University — as a Branford College “Scholar of the House” — he worked in television. He built Cablevision’s 1st studio, in the basement of 265 Post Road West.

Nate directed cable TV shows, and had his own production company.

But he was always interested in the fire department. In the 1980s — while serving as a volunteer — he watched as another TV company produced an atrocious training video here in town.

Nate knew he could do it better. When he won the contract for the next video, he did. On that shoot, a firefighter told him he should join the department.

In 1995, he did.

It was a great homecoming. As a kid in Westport — growing up not far from the Green’s Farms fire station — he’d had a great time riding along as trucks responded to brush fires. (“You can’t do that today,” he says matter-of-factly.)

Though Nate has been the Westport Fire Department’s voice in previous disasters, they were blips on the weather radar compared to Sandy.

For nearly a week — starting the night of the hurricane — he went on WWPT-FM. In segments as brief as 3 minutes, and as long as 25, he talked about disaster preparedness and recovery. And he did it from every angle imaginable.

There are 3 types of information, Nate explains.

One is updates: road closings, power outages, shelter hours, etc.

Another is closings and openings — of roads, schools, that sort of thing.

A typical Nate Gibbons briefing includes information on road closings, and how to handle downed wires and trees. This was the scene earlier this month on North Avenue.

The 3rd is safety. “That’s second nature to me as an inspector. But it’s not necessarily known to everyone,” Nate says. Topics include how to use a generator, what to do when the power comes back on, and the importance of looking up for falling debris.

“I don’t joke about carbon monoxide,” Nate notes. “But I will say, ‘If you don’t know what a flue is, you shouldn’t have a fire in your fireplace.’”

Westport is filled with New Yorkers (and others) “who never owned a home before. People don’t necessarily know how to operate their homes. There’s no user’s manual.”

So he provides one.

He reads from a script. (Don’t ask where he finds the time to write one.) It’s vetted by Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury and a deputy. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — a former journalist — also provides good advice.

Nate is filled with praise for Kinsbury, and the entire 65-person Westport Fire Department. “Officers slept at the EOC. Firefighters were on for 4 or 5 days straight.”

Nate was lucky. He lives in town. He went home for an hour or two, to check on his own house.

But then it was back to the fire station, and the transmitter used to communicate via 90.3 FM.

Now, his star turn over, Nate is back to his regular work. There’s a backlog of inspections to be done.

He’s also working on an after-action report, so the Westport Fire Department can be ready for the next disaster.

In his calm, steady — but authoritative voice — Nate says, “You know it’s going to come.”

* FUN NATE GIBBONS FACT: Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo. Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment or its cargo that is purposefully cast overboard (“jettisoned”) to lighten the load in time of distress.

10 responses to “Nate Gibbons: The Man Behind The Voice

  1. Wow! Very impressive. He does have a nice voice, we tuned in everyday for an informative, reassuring and detailed update. Thank you Nate Gibbons!!

  2. Thank You Nate! …..Thank You Fire and Police departments for all of the help all of the time…but boy…was it great to know you all had our backs during and after Sandy. …..xoxoxo….I hope someone kept those recordings. They are historical documents and great teaching tools.

  3. Jane Nordli Jessep

    Thank you, Dan for posting this piece about Nate. He was truly the man of the hour. Every time I got in my car for the week I had no electricity and stayed with friends in Weston with a generator, I would drive around mostly to hear Nate’s updates. Even sometimes listening to parts of the report over again. His voice was so reassuring. I hope he knows what a bright light he was during our Sandy crisis.

  4. Thank you for posting this – I will share it with my 8 year old who still asks for the “Hurricane Sandy” update every day. Nate is a natural and made us feel at ease while the time passed without electricity.

  5. I’m also a member of the Nate Gibbons fan club. My wife and I would to see him run for public office so that we can vote for him.

  6. Betty Lou Cummings

    Great Bio Dan & more about our “Sandy” hero Nate Gibbons. I nominate Nate for “Citizen of the Year”…he deserves it for ALL the comforting & “just the facts” words during Sandy. I would vote for Nate too!! hugs, Betty Lou Cummings

  7. I think Nate should have a weekly 30 min segment on 90.3 where he talks about anything he thinks would be useful for homeowners, or anyone for that matter, who live in Westport.

  8. What a great story! Hats off to Nate Gibbons for a job well done!

  9. Another side of Nate he is an expert Beekeeper!

  10. Nate is also a very talented photographic artist.

    http://www.nwgibbons.com/html/bio.html

    He’s another example of why Yale’s graduates are far more interesting than Harvard’s!