Tag Archives: Nate Gibbons

Nate Gibbons Hangs Up His Fire Department Hat

Nate Gibbons may be the only fire marshal in America who graduated from Choate and Yale, and whose resume includes radio DJ, cable TV director and video producer.

Soon, Gibbons could be the only ex-fire marshal with that resume.

The Westport Fire Department icon retires May 31. He’s spent 27 years here, in roles that also include public information officer. Before that, he was a volunteer firefighter.

Long before that — as a kid growing up not far from the Greens Farms fire station — he rode along as trucks responded to brush fires. (“You can’t do that today,” he notes.)

Gibbons has had long, fulfilling careers, both before and with the WFD. The other day he sat in the central firehouse. As firefighters trained outside using a wrecked vehicle, and a call sent them scrambling into action, he reflected on all those years.

Westport fire marshal Nate Gibbons.

After creating a production studio on Post Road West, and his own company in Norwalk, Gibbons traveled the world making corporate training films.

The Fire Department of New York and a fire magazine were early clients. Working closely on scripts and shoots, he bonded with fire officials. But the constant travel burned him out.

“You should be a firefighter!” they told him. He took tests, was #1 on the Westport list, sold his company and — despite taking a pay cut from 6 figures to $26,000 his first year — never looked back.

“I was outside. I developed great relationships. Every day was exciting, and a challenge,” Gibbons says. “I thrived.”

Firefighter Nate Gibbons, in action.

with his experience as a DJ — he was a calm, clear, compassionate, just-humorous-enough and very educational voice on WWPT-FM in the days after storms like Sandy, Henri and Isaias.

From how to take care of your generator and how to conserve ice, to trivia like the difference between flotsam and jetsam, Gibbons kept residents safe and sane in tough, unelectrified times.

As a fire inspector and marshal, he spent countless hours reviewing site plans. He talked with stakeholders, walked construction sites and mediated conflicting demands, all so that his colleagues would have fewer calls to answer — and we’d all be safer.

Nate Gibbons, through the years.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many disasters his work prevented. But the fact that Westport has not had an issue in years — no major fires, no problems with emergency vehicle access, none of those things we never think about until they happen — did not happen by, um, accident.

Not all of that is due to Gibbons’ vigilance, of course. He notes that a sharp decrease in smoking has led to a similar drop in fires caused by cigarettes. And public education about drinking and driving has lessened dramatically the number of extrications the WFD performs. (Another reason: improved automotive design and technology.)

Other changes are less positive. When Gibbons first started, many co-workers lived in Westport, or nearby. Changing housing patterns — and salaries that lag behind — mean that some firefighters live as far away as Brookfield, Killingworth and Mystic.

Gone are the days when, even off duty, they could respond within minutes to a call.

Nate Gibbons was called one day for a possible hazardous material. No one knew what was inside a large container. It turned out to be a few pounds of marijuana.

Looking ahead 5 years, Gibbons says that the WFD’s biggest challenge will be related to those same changing housing patterns, including many new apartments. Fighting fires in “podium-style” buildings (those built over parking garages) is hard. Renters are not always as safety-conscious as homeowners.

Fortunately, he says, many of Westport’s biggest new residences have fire alarms, and are built with safety in mind.

He’s also proud that Westport has invested in thing like hazmat protection and marine firefighting, and training. “These guys drill all the time,” Gibbons notes.

Gibbons’ service to Westport includes years as a union official. He fought for many things, including additional firefighters on trucks.

He’s seen “terrible things” in his time here, he says: two young children who drowned in a swimming pool, and horrific accidents on I-95.

But, he notes, “in what other job could I deliver a baby without being a doctor?” It happened at Sherwood Island one hot summer day.

“I was more scared than at any fire,” he recalls. But his training kicked in. He got the baby out, cut the umbilical cord, put it on its mother’s chest — and heard it cry.

Quick decisions are part of that training. And, Gibbons notes, making a wrong decision is better than making none at all. At least you can change a wrong decision.

His best decision ever was “taking this job.” His mother was opposed. His father loved it. His wife Elizabeth has always been behind him.

Nate Gibbons’ wife has always supported him — even when his public information duties meant he’d be away from home, right after storms or other disasters, for days at a time. Here he records a daily briefing for WWPT-FM.

Another good decision was to retire. Gibbons is just 65. But, he says, “It’s time. I’ve got a great guy backing me up. It’s his time now. I’ve got an obligation to let other people move up.”

After retirement, Gibbons will spend time fixing up the Spicer Road farmhouse he recently bought.

He’ll also have more to spend with his wife. He worked 13 straight days after Superstorm Sandy. Westporters hung on to his every word, with his frequent updates on WWPT.

We will miss his soothing voice, and wise words. We’ll miss too his behind-the-scenes work, making our town safer for everyone who lives, works and passes through it.

But — based on that impressive and eclectic résumé — Nate Gibbons is just warming up for his next act.

BONUS FEATURE: I asked soon-to-retire Nate Gibbons for any last message to Westporters. Instantly, he said: “Have working smoke detectors. Have an escape plan, and practice it. Not just for fires — there are plenty of guns, and plenty of kooks, out there. Keep your head on a swivel. And don’t just have Plan B. Have Plans C, D and E.”

Roundup: Weather, Sam Wilkes, RFK …


Yesterday’s “hurricane” was a dud. All that time spent hauling in patio furnitue, hauling boats out of the water, hauling ass around town for food, batteries and gas — what a waste!

Except it wasn’t.

Storms are capricious. We expected to be battered this time, but barely got a tap. Last summer, no one was worried about Isaias. It brought us to our knees.

It’s the same with winter weather. We’ve stripped Stop & Shop of all its eggs and milk, only to receive a few flakes. And we’ve been homebound for days after snow and ice we didn’t really expect.

So what’s the lesson? Should we ignore every warning, and just try to be prepared all the time?

No. The weatherpersons have gotten their forecasts right far more often than they’ve been wrong. Listen to the experts. It really is better to be safe than sorry.

Or put another way: It’s a lot better to be pleasantly surprised that Henri was a dud — in Westport, at least — than to broil in the dark, with no utility truck in sight for days, because of a storm we were not worried about.

Homes on Compo Cove — many boarded up, in anticipation of Hurricane Henri — yesterday. Instead of high winds and heavy rain, the day passed without incident. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)


After closing the town’s Emergency Operations Center yesterday afternoon, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:

“I want to thank our residents and businesses for heeding the instructions to remain at home and prepare for what could’ve been a major situation. I hope that for many Westporters, today was a day well spent with family, or at least a chance to test and improve your emergency preparedness.

Thank you also to the Westport Fire, Police, Public Health, Parks & Recreation, Public Works and Human Services Departments for their efforts to monitor and prepare to respond to the needs of our community.”

Fire marshal Nate Gibbons provided updates on Henri yesterday, on WWPT-FM. He had little to report.


One last Henri photo.

In contrast to Saturday’s packed-all-day Merritt Parkway, yesterday was a breeze.

Merritt Parkway, from the North Avenue bridge. (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

Maybe we should have hurricane warnings more often?


At Staples, Sam Wilkes was all music, nearly all the time. He played in the band, jazz band and orchestra. (He also took as many English courses as he could: 4 in senior year.) In high school, he says, “I learned how to learn.”

After graduating in 2009, Sam headed to the University of Southern California. He was in the 1st class of the new Popular Music Performance program.

He’s still playing — and living life on his own terms.

The August 23 issue of The New Yorker includes a piece about Sam and his musical partner, Sam Gendel. Kelefa Sanneh explores their 2018 jazz-and-more album “Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar,” one song of which was featured n the Netflix movie “Malcolm & Marie.””BOA” has been streamed nearly 2 million times on Spotify.

Wilkes is doing plenty of recording, including with Chaka Khan. Sanneh expresses surprise in The New Yorker that he and Gendels do not tour more, and describesthe quirky route to where the duo is today. He appreciates, though, their simplicity, ambience and texture.

Sanneh mentions a video Wilkes and Gendel filmed with the band KNOWER. They help the group “burn through a breakneck funk groove”; Wilkes, he says, “contributes a particularly tasty bass fill.”

it’s been viewed more than 5 million times. (Click here for the full story.)


Check out the new header (top photo) on “06880.” The great, wide shot of the Levitt Pavilion comes courtesy of Joel Treisman. Much appreciated!

Speaking of the Levitt: Here’s this week’s schedule.

  • Tuesday, August 24: The Fairfield Counts (19-member big band)
  • Wednesday, August 25:  Sonia de los Santos (Latin Grammy nominee)
  • Thursday, August 26: Nellie McKay (Great American Songbook)
  • Friday, August 27: Mihali (Singer/songwriter)
  • Saturday, August 28; Gunsmoke (country, Western swing, rockabilly)
  • Sunday, August 29: Dr. K’s Motown Revue

Click here for times, and (free!) ticket information.

Dr. K’s Motown Revue will have audiences dancing in the street — well, on the grass — next Sunday, at the Levitt Pavilion.


As summer workers head off to college, this retro Compo Beach Soundview parking lot sign may soon be hauled out of storage:

(Photo/Daniel Maya)


Robin Gusick ventured out to Fresh Market yesterday. She reports:

“The ice cream shelves were empty. But shoppers could start advance planning for Thanksgiving.

“They might even begin saving, to buy an $89.99 chocolate turkey.”

What?! Have we just skipped Halloween, and gone straight to “the holidays”?!

(Photo/Robin Gusick)


Spotted downtown: Support for a politician absolutely with no chance of winning.

(Photo/JC Martin)


These 2 Compo birds had no idea yesterday that a fierce hurricane was predicted. Or that it never arrived.

They didn’t even realize they were posing for today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature. They just did their Compo thing.

(Photo/Dr. Michelle Widmeier)


Don Everly — the older of the duo, whose “fusion of Appalachian harmonies and a tighter, cleaner version of big-beat rock ’n’ roll made them harbingers of both folk-rock and country-rock” (according to the New York Times), died Saturday at his Nashville home. He was 84.

Click here for the full obituary.


Post-Isaias Roundup: 78%, 90.3 FM, More

As of noon, 9,800 — 78 percent — of Westport’s Eversource customers remained without power. There is no indication when restoration will be complete.

The number of impassable roads is 14. The Department of Public Works expects all to be passable by tomorrow. At that point, DPW will work on the roads with hanging trees or other obstructions. After that, they’ll embark on a thorough town clean-up.

Westporters (and Norwalkers) worry about this situation on Post Road West. The lines are drooping lower by the hour. As soon as blocked roads are cleared, crews will take care of this — and a similar very visible situation on Avery Place. (Photo/Diane Lowman)

He was the Hero of Superstorm Sandy. Not to mention many other natural disasters — blizzards, wind storms, locust plagues — that have befallen Westport in the past decade.

Now Nate Gibbons is back, as wise and informative as ever.

The fire inspector can be heard on a continuous loop on WWPT-FM (90.3), the Staples High School radio station. He offers an astonishing array of information: what’s opened and closed, where to charge your devices, how to keep safe while using generators and extension cords, the latest on the Longshore golf course, and hundreds of life hacks.

And he does it all in a folksy, comforting voice combining the best of Brian Lehrer, Garrison Keillor and FDR.

There’s not much good about our current weather crisis. But Nate Gibbons makes it almost bearable.

Nate Gibbons

Les Dinkin was at Compo Beach today. He noticed:

  1. It’s very empty. Sure, it’s a beautiful August Saturday. But most Westporters have a few other things to do right now.
  2. A reminder about remembering all the things we take for granted. As someone whose power came back about half an hour ago, I could not agree more.
  3. Trees and bushes in the Compo neighborhood look very brown. Les wonders if it’s from the wind. Or perhaps salt water from the storm?

(Photo/Les Dinkin)

Jeff Seaver sends along this message from John Dulligan, government liaison for Altice, the parent company of Optimum. Suffice it to say, Jeff is not impressed:

As you probably know, this storm caused widespread damage. The vast majority of the service-related issues for our customers relate to commercial power impacts. To the extent that there are impacts on our plant due to the storm, we need to ensure the situations are safe prior to proceeding. We are working as fast as we can to restore services if the outage is not related to loss of commercial power. There can certainly be scenarios where power dips (on then off) which is typically the result of our services coming on and dropping again.

And finally … let’s update Sam Cooke’s 1963 classic with the words: “Another Saturday night, and I ain’t got no power …”

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.

One Man’s Many Thanks

RTM member Don Bergmann sent this email to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Police Chief Dale Call, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, Public Works director Steve Edwards, Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy, and Human Services head Barbara Butler — plus all town employees and volunteers.

It’s a sentiment worth repeating, loud and often, by every Westporter:

As I have said to some of you personally already, you all did a terrific job during and after Sandy. All I have spoken with have expressed the same sentiment.

While some of you may simply say “that’s my job,” your performance was so much more than that. I and the whole town thank you. Please share my thoughts with all of your people.

Nate Gibbons — the face behind the voice.

Whether it was the emergency radio information (Nate Gibbons is ready for “prime time”), the advance warnings, the regular flow of information, the incredible cleanup of our roads and especially our beach areas, the pressure applied to CL&P, the efficient and effective manner in which the electrical issues in our low-lying areas were addressed and the work of people such as Barbara Butler, Sue Pfister and so many others (and of course all within our fire and police departments, most of whom are not known to us by name), all became a testatment to the skills and commitments of you and the many who work for and with you.

Thank you.



Today’s Update — Valuable Info!

Thanks to WestportNow.com for this edited update of this morning’s Emergency Operations Center broadcast by fire inspector Nate Gibbons, on WWPT-FM 90.3:

Power restorations are continuing today with slow but steady progress. Yesterday we were 88 percent out, today we’re about 70 percent out.

Hillspoint Road and Hales Court got their power back last night. Today it’s likely that Compo Road South will get power on down as far as the Minute Man statue.

CL&P has three tree crews and 15 line crews working in town, and today additional out-of-town help came from Hydro-Quebec.

Town crews continue to fight the battle to open all the town’s roads. Ten roads remain completely impassable at this time and both town and CL&P tree crews will be working to open them.

About 40 roads remain partially blocked with one lane of traffic. Please use caution and proceed past these leaning trees at no faster than a walking speed.

Main Street Westport has made remarkable progress towards getting their power back on. Twenty-four hours ago almost 60 stores were flooded and out of commission.

That number is now down to about a dozen. Building officials, the fire marshal and fire inspectors are working to square those away by early afternoon. We are hoping to energize Main Street later this afternoon.

This is not a guarantee and is contingent on clean electrical inspections in those remaining dozen stores. So, if you’re managing a store on Main Street, please have an employee in the store starting at 2 p.m. today. We want someone in every store when the power returns in case hidden damage causes a problem.

We will be staging fire apparatus on Main Street as a precaution when the switches get thrown.

The Building Department will be starting to check individual home electrical services in the heavily damaged beach and shore areas today. If you can get in touch with a private licensed electricians to inspect your home and certify it can safely have power restored, please do so. That will speed up the process. Town inspectors will carry identification.

Schools are closed the rest of the week. With cold nights now ahead of us, warming centers are being considered as is reopening a shelter for those with no heat.

Compo Beach is open. Burying Hill Beach is closed. And special alert to boaters -– all town marinas are open to day so you can check your vessels.

Friendly reminder to stay clear of the residential neighborhoods around the beaches. They remain unsafe in places, there is significant oil and sewage contamination, and remember that support for our neighbors who suffered this damage includes respecting their privacy.

The transfer station is open on the Connector – as is the yard waste site. The Resco plant is still closed, so please consider holding your trash for a few days as space is limited at the dump.

The Westport Weston Family Y remains closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

The Saugatuck Shores area is still “residents only.” Harbor Road is open to emergency vehicles and utility crews only. Residents should use Marsh Court to access the shores. The wood bridge is still out.

Wires are still a big risk. Treat all downed wires as live. Give them a wide berth- 15 feet at least.

If you see wires burning or sparking, propane tanks leaking, smell a strong odor of gas, or other immediately life-threatening emergency, call 911.

If you have wires down that are not burning, report them to CL&P by calling 800-286-2000.

If you have an issue with fuel oil or a fuel oil tank that has tipped over or is leaking, please call the fire department at 203-341-5011.

Keep your eyes peeled for hanging branches that can drop without warning.

Do not drive past barriers or fire line tape. Do not remove barriers or fire line tape- they are there for all of our protection.

Food—if your fridge and freezer have been out since Monday, it’s past the time to safely eat anything. Please don’t take the risk.

Water—if you need water, all our fire stations have hoses available for filling your own bottles and containers.

Trash disposal – there is no bulk pick-up of waterlogged items by the town. If you pile stuff on the road, crews have been instructed to push it back onto your property. Please hire a contractor or dumpster to dispose of your damaged materials.

If you are using a portable generator, please pay attention to the following critical safety rules:

Run all generators outside your dwelling a minimum of 15 feet away.

Do not run them in a garage ever. Use heavy duty extension cords only.

Do not use light duty lamp cord or the cheapy green cords we use for holiday lighting.

Plug only one appliance into each extension cord at a time. Check the extension cord for temperature. If it gets warm or hot to the touch disconnect it immediately.

Never refuel your generator while it’s running. Turn it off, gas it up, then re-start it.

Fireplaces, wood stoves and heaters – it’s going to get cold over the next few days and many of us will be burning wood to heat our homes. Please remember the following important safety guidelines

If you haven’t used your fireplace in several years. Have a pro check it out first.

Make sure the flue is open. If you don’t know what a flue is, then you shouldn’t be using the fireplace to begin with. And when you go to bed, you leave the flue open all night. Closing the flue can trap CO in your home and poison you.

Third – only burn wood, kindling, and newspaper in your fireplace. No combustible liquids, no garbage, and never, ever, ever gasoline.

Use a fire screen. Keep all combustibles well clear of the hearth, and if you’re using those pre-fab pressed sawdust logs, only burn one at a time.

If you are using a portable heater and powering it off a generator, heaters draw lots of current. Use only a heavy duty extension cord, 12-3 at least.

Check the cord for overheating while the heater is running, and always keep the heater away from bedding, upholstery, rugs, or other combustible items. You heater should also have a safety cut out that kills it if it tips over.

And traffic –  Be sure you come to a complete stop at any traffic light that has no power.

We’ve had a number of folks calling in to volunteer with our monumental clean-up task. Parks and Rec will be coordinating these efforts, and later today I should have a contact number for all you potential volunteers.

For the most updated information go to the town’s website, www.westportct.gov. At that site you can also sign up for Twitter updates, and also if you have not already done so, sign up for the CodeRed telephone and email alerts.

Check the link at the town site for the status on road closures. The next update will be today after 4 p.m.

90.3 FM — News You Need, Now!

Whichever way you listen to radio — in a car, on your computer or through a plain ol’ battery-operated set — you should tune in to 90.3 FM.

WWPT — “Wrecker Radio” — is playing a continuous loop of a post-hurricane briefing by fire inspector Nate Gibbons.

Clearly, succinctly — but very comprehensively — he delivers a spectacular amount of information, advice and tips to all Westporters.

Well contamination, generator safety, how to ensure the electricity is turned back on in flood-damaged homes, clearing debris from private roads — it’s all there, to learn from and pass along.

WWPT-FM is the Staples High School radio station.  Right now, the fire department has commandeered its airwaves to pass along crucial, hard-to-find information.

At a time when “local radio” is almost non-existent, here’s one more reason to be thankful for what we’ve got.