Apr 23, 2008
Joe Abruzzi
Weston's Citizen of the Year

Members of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department, EMS, and communications center, showed support for Joe Abruzzi at a ceremony Monday, April 21, recognizing him as Weston’s 2008 Citizen of the Year. —Patricia Gay photo

by Patricia Gay

Joe Abruzzi, 2008 Citizen of the Year, is a dispatcher at the Weston Communications Center as well as deputy fire chief and a member of Weston’s Emergency Medical Services. —Patricia Gay photo
A man who finds great satisfaction in helping others is the town’s 2008 Citizen of the Year.

In a ceremony held before the start of the Annual Town Budget Meeting Monday night, Rick Phillips, chairman of the Police Commission, presented the honor to Joseph Abruzzi, a town employee and longtime member of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department.

“Joe is a tireless volunteer and we thank him for his many years of service to the town,” Mr. Phillips said as the crowd, filled with emergency service volunteers, rose to its feet and cheered.

Mr. Phillips then presented Mr. Abruzzi with a special plaque, as co-workers showered him with a balloon bouquet.

“Thank you very much, this is truly a great honor,” Mr. Abruzzi said.

Each year since 1986, the Police Commission recognizes as Citizen of the Year an individual who it believes has made a significant contribution to elevate the standards of law enforcement, safety, or good citizenship in Weston.

The commission’s very first Citizen of the Year, Weston Police Detective Carl Filsinger, nominated Mr. Abruzzi for the 2008 award.

In a letter to the commission, Detective Filsinger wrote, “Joe Abruzzi is a true role model for me, and I believe, many other residents of Weston. He brings professionalism and dedication to his position as a communications center dispatcher and as deputy fire chief of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department and EMS. Joe is a true community volunteer. In addition to being a member of the Volunteer Fire Department and EMS, he is also an active member of the Kiwanis Club.

“Joe has also been very supportive of our department and its members. He has helped nurture a partnership in public safety between Weston’s police and fire departments. Joe is clearly an effective leader who is respected by all who know or work with him.”

Fire Chief John Pokorny agrees with that assessment. “I don’t think they could have chosen a better person. Joe has done so much for the fire department — he is one of its cornerstones. When I am out of town and Joe is in charge, I feel completely comfortable. He is a great second in command,” Mr. Pokorny said.

Mr. Abruzzi has served 18 years with the fire department, rising from the rank of firefighter to his current position as deputy chief. He is also an EMT.

Joe Abruzzi, a Navy veteran, was a Grand Marshal in the Weston Memorial Day parade.
In 2007, Mr. Abruzzi went on 175 fire and EMS calls. This year, so far, he has gone on 32 calls.

“Joe joined the fire department with enthusiasm and he still shows it. He has really done his part,” Mr. Pokorny said.

Mr. Abruzzi has also worked for the town for 10 years as a dispatcher in the Communications Center. “When Joe is working in dispatch, he has a great understanding of what is going on with us on our calls because he’s been there. He is the person you want in that job,” Mr. Pokorny said.

Ted Wilkes, a former Westonite who now lives in Las Vegas, became a firefighter the same time as Mr. Abruzzi did in 1990.

“We were recruits together and became good friends. Joe is one of the most honorable and sincere men I have ever met. He is a really good guy in every sense of the word, and would give you the shirt off his back,” Mr. Wilkes said.

As a dispatcher, Mr. Abruzzi said he not only appreciates the significance of his job during emergencies, but he also enjoys what some may consider more mundane activities like giving directions to people and providing information on non-emergency calls. “When you are helping people there is satisfaction all day and every day,” Mr. Abruzzi said.

Bronx boy
Mr. Abruzzi was born in 1945 and grew up in the Bronx. He got involved in the printing business before joining the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, where he served as a quartermaster in navigation.

He was assigned to an admiral’s staff and during his service was stationed aboard three aircraft carriers. The carriers remained in the Atlantic Ocean and he did not see active combat.

After the military, Mr. Abruzzi resumed his printing practice and went to work for a company in Framingham, Mass., where he met his wife Sheryl.

The couple settled in Weston in 1976, where they raised a son, Glenn, and daughter, Jennifer, now adults.

Married for 36 years, the Abruzzis have two-year-old twin grandsons, Evan and Samuel, who live in East Haven, and keep them busy in their spare time.

After settling in Weston, Mr. Abruzzi decided to join the town’s volunteer fire department. “They offered insurance incentives to attract new recruits, so I thought I would give it a try,” he said.

He enjoyed emergency services so much that when an opening came up in the communications center he decided to leave printing and become a full-time dispatcher.
Proving you can take the boy out of the Bronx, but not the Bronx out of the boy, Mr. Abruzzi is a diehard New York Yankees fan.

A few years ago, when the Yankees acquired star player Johnny Damon from their archrivals the Boston Red Sox, Mr. Abruzzi tweaked his son-in-law, a Sox fan, by pasting a photograph of Johnny Damon holding a Yankees’ shirt on his son-in-law’s door at eye level, so his son-in-law would see it each time he went into the house.

Mr. Abruzzi is also the founder of the Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome (VCFS) Educational Foundation, an international non-profit organization, dedicated to VCFS, a genetic disorder in humans characterized by cleft palates, heart abnormalities, learning disabilities, and more than 180 other clinical findings.

“My son has VCFS and I wanted to start a group that would help educate medical professionals and the public about this disorder,” Mr. Abruzzi said.

His work so far has been successful. “The organization is now global and thousands of people are sharing their research,” he said.

Mr. Abruzzi is a longtime member of the Weston Kiwanis Club, where he helps out with the club’s fund-raisers.

“Joe’s our man. The work he does with the Kiwanis Club goes unsung,” said fellow Kiwanian Curtis Gunn. “Joe’s the type of individual that no matter what you ask him to do he does it unselfishly and with a smile on his face,” Mr. Gunn said.

Mr. Abruzzi also keeps the Kiwanians entertained with stories about his service in the Navy, Mr. Gunn said. “The stories are very interesting, but I don’t think they would be suitable for print,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Phillips also works with Mr. Abruzzi in Kiwanis activities. “Everything Joe takes on runs efficiently and without a problem. He handles the annual operation of our pasta dinner and it goes off without a hitch,” Mr. Phillips said.

The Police Commission received 12 nominees for the 2008 Citizen of the Year award. “We had many qualified candidates and it was a tough decision. But Joe’s roots are in public safety, and he stood out. Joe is an all around great guy and an asset to the town,” Mr. Phillips said.

© Copyright 2008 by Hersam Acorn Newspapers
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