Johnston officials dedicated a new memorial at War Memorial Park Wednesday morning.
Christopher Correia, the town’s director of Recreational and Community Services, took the stage to switch gears after a Veterans Day Recognition Ceremony.
“I would now like to direct your attention to the right, for the dedication of the Johnston Hose No. 1 Volunteer Firefighters Memorial, which was installed this past couple of weeks,” Correia told the crowd. “This firefighter memorial was brought to us by retired Johnston Fire Department Chief Alan Zambarano.”
Correia asked Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena to return to the stage.
“By the way, Chief Zambarano was my boss,” said the former state senator, nurse and fire department rescue medic. “I used to salute him, and answer his orders. And when I became the mayor, he’s shaking his head, and says, ‘Are you sure you can do that?’”
Polisena paid tribute to the two men behind the park’s newest memorial — Zambarano and Michael J. Placella, Jr.
“(Chief Zambarano) also came to me after the passing of Mike Placella,” Polisena recalled. “Mike was a great guy; very active in the Thornton Hose 1 Volunteer Association. And they wanted to do something that obviously, all of those men, many of them served our country, and came back, they got jobs, some of them came on the Fire Department, others had their own businesses. But they served their town. And they volunteered. They volunteered as volunteer firefighters, the old days, they had the old ambulance that was a Cadillac, believe it or not. And the old fire truck.”
A fully restored Hose 1 truck was on scene in the park. The police and fire departments’ Honor Guards prepped their flags behind it prior to Wednesday morning’s ceremony.
“We really appreciate what you’ve done,” Polisena said. “As I’ve said, the countless members who volunteered, but most importantly for my dear friend Mike Placella who used to come visit me, and we would talk politics, and we were going to save the world, but I guess nobody was listening. But he’s just a dear friend and I know he’s watching down, and he’s got to be proud of this.”
Placella, a Johnston native, died in July. He worked as a manager at Verizon for 30 years before retiring, and served in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II, according to his obituary.
Placella also served as the President of the Johnston Hose 1 Volunteer Fire Department.
In lieu of flowers, his obituary requested donations to the Johnston Hose 1 Veterans Memorial. Donations were handled by former Chief Zambarano.
The new memorial consists of a pair of benches facing a stone monument.
“Please take some time and take a look at it,” he asked the crowd. “It’s a time to reflect, I think, when people are walking the park, they can just kind of sit down on the bench and look at what many of the volunteer firefighters did, who served our country by the way, and served our country admirably. I want to once again, he’s not here, but I know he’s watching … and of course, I want to thank Chief Zambarano, who did this really, for what was done even before he was a volunteer firefighter.”
Zambarano began as a volunteer firefighter, then joined Johnston’s professional department full-time, and worked his way up through the ranks.
“And became our chief, and was a really good chief, and a really good boss,” Polisena said. “Thank you so much Chief.”
Polisena urged the crowd to spend some time at the memorial.
“Please, take a look at it,” he said. “It’s beautiful. Quite frankly, I was shocked looking at it myself. It just came out so well. This is once again to recognize those firefighters who volunteered their services, but also served our country.”
The Johnston Hose No. 1 Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated more than 70 years ago on July 6, 1950.
Its mission was to “provide free housing for equipment and personnel and to foster good will between citizens and fire personnel.”
Polisena invited Johnston Fire Chief Peter J. Lamb to the stage.
“If you haven’t looked at the firefighters’ memorial, I’d just call your attention to one thing,” Lamb told the crowd. “There’s an emblem on the seat. It’s called the Maltese Cross.”
Lamb delivered a firefighting history lesson.
“And what that really means, that goes back to the days of knighthood, when there were knights in armor and all that stuff,” Lamb explained. “They’d get in these battles. And one of the weapons was fire. And the knights of St. John that settled in Malta never got involved in the battle. They would just go help anyone who was threatened or injured by fire. And it’s interesting a lot of people don’t know that. It’s called the Maltese Cross and it is in stone, because it will be there forever.”
The Knights were also known as the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, a medieval and early modern Catholic military order.
“As you look at my firefighters in the crowd, every one of them is wearing the Maltese Cross, because they will help anybody who is threatened or injured by fire,” Lamb said. “I got to meet Mike Placella on several occasions. He was truly a character. And he is smiling down today upon us, there’s no question about it. My firefighters have taken up the old Maxim truck, and we’re going to bring it with us to events just like we did today, and we’re going to keep that station alive.”
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