Mayor Joseph Polisena wasn’t about to let Tim McLaughlin leave town after serving as Johnston’s Fire Chief for the past seven years without doing something special..
So the mayor decided to have a surprise sendoff party for his chief inside the Johnston Senior Center, which was once home for visiting celebrities who performed at the El Morocco Supper Club on Hartford Avenue.
With the work of his administrative aid Janet Whiteley, Polisena filled the lobby with local and state dignitaries from the fire fighting fraternity, political arena and most of all McLaughlin’s family, including his father John J. McLaughlin, 86, a former lieutenant with the Pawtucket Fire Department where it all started for Rhode Island’s new State Fire Marshall 35 years ago.
Polisena’s surprise plan worked to perfection. The Mayor asked Johnston Building Inspector Ben Nascenzi to call JFD Chief McLaughlin saying there was a mechanical fire in a plug inside the Executive Director’s office and to meet him there.
Trouble was, McLaughlin – whose last day as JFD chief was Friday – didn’t have his cell phone turned on. But Polisena had Nascenzi call incoming Chief Peter Lamb and soon thereafter both the soon to be former chief and new lead were at the JSC.
All was going to plan until McLaughlin pulled into the JSC parking lot and saw lots of cars. He become somewhat suspicious and when he got to the front door knew what was going on yet was thrilled to see so many people. He quickly thanked Polisena before hugging his wife Heather and embracing his father and brother John J. McLaughlin III, a Deputy Chief with the Pawtucket Fire Department.
McLaughlin and Polisena also engaged in some friendly ribbing and the departing chief made his way through the standing room only crowd thanking each person for coming before performing his final order from Polisena to cut not one but two well-decorated cakes, one of which had a picture of a JFD rescue.
McLaughlin cut the cakes, noting that his father served for 22 years in Pawtucket, John III has been with the PFD 33 years and as Tim McLaughlin said about his father: “He’s the main reason why I’ve been in this racket for 35 years.”
“I’m so proud of him it’s unreal,” the elder McLaughlin said. “I’m proud of both my sons; I’m one lucky guy. I have two great sons, two daughters-in-law, one granddaughter and now the Rhode Island State Fire Marshall. I’m ever so proud!”
Heather McLaughlin, Tim’s wife who beat a battle with cancer three years ago, echoed those sentiments saying, “I’m absolutely so proud of him but I never thought he’d be the (Rhode Island) State Fire Marshall. This is a special, special day for our family.”
His brother John III, meanwhile, made no bones about how his brother will handle the demanding and often trying position of RI State Fire Marshall.
“I’m proud of the work he’s done and I know he’s going to do a great job in that office,” John III said. “My wife lost her brother and his wife in the Station Fire. Tim and I were both there that night. He knows fist hand what happens when fire marshals don’t do their job.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Johnston Police Department Chief Richard S. Tamburini heaped words of praise upon McLaughlin and left little doubt that Gov. Gina Raimondo made the correct choice when she named him Rhode Island State Fire Marshal.
“First, Tim’s a great friend of mine,” Avedisian said. “His appointment creates a good atmosphere for the Warwick Fire Department and State Fire Marshal’s office. I’m confident Tim will do a great job in his new position just as Jack Chartier did during his time as State Fire Marshall.”
Avedisian added, “This is a win-win for the WFD and our city; both Tim and Jack are Warwick residents who have held this important position.”
Tamburini turned back the hands of time to seven years ago when Polisena “told me to find the best fire chief possible.”
So, Rhode Island’s longest serving police chief with 52 years to his credit began an interview process and exhausted all possible candidates before coming to the conclusion that Tim McLaughlin was the person he would recommend to the mayor to be Johnston’s next fire chief.
“The Governor and Mayor Polisena made a great choice in selecting Tim McLaughlin as their fire chief and state fire marshal,” said Tamburini. “I was proud to serve alongside him for the past seven years.”