Richard Liberti still remembers the first major fire he responded to as a firefighter, about 34 years ago.
He was 26, and it was his first or second day on the job. At 2 a.m., he had to jump out of bed and join the other firefighters as they responded to the call.
He was without much experience in dealing with major fires, but he relied on the advice of the veteran firefighters around him who told him what to do. He wasn’t nervous or scared. He just listened as the others told him to bring over a hose or a ladder.
“I didn’t do anything they didn’t tell me to do,” he said.
Decades later, Liberti was the veteran who other firefighters listened to. On Friday, after 34 years of service with the Amsterdam Fire Department, including 18 as chief, Liberti was ready to begin his retirement.
A final inspection ceremony was held at the fire department’s headquarters in the city’s Public Safety Building around noon, with firefighters, Mayor Ann Thane and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, in attendance.
Liberti became interested in becoming a firefighter by spending time with people he knew who were on the job. Being a firefighter meant helping people, especially on their worst day, when their home or property was engulfed in flames.
“We spend the majority of our time preparing to help somebody or actually helping somebody,” he said.
Michael T. Whitty, who’ll be sworn in as the new chief Monday, has worked with Liberti for the past 26 years and is currently one of Liberti’s battalion chiefs. There are a total of 33 firefighters in the department, including Liberti.
“He’s a good firefighter and a good leader,” Whitty said of Liberti. Whitty said he learned a lot about being a chief from Liberti, such as taking care of the budget and making sure the equipment they use is up to date.
“He never thought he was better than anyone,” said Tim Czeski, a former firefighter who worked with Liberti for 30 years.
Czeski and Frank Alibozek, who worked with Liberti for 33 years, said they could never remember Liberti raising his voice or getting upset at anyone. Liberti would simply lead by example, they said.
“He would always come in on every major fire we had,” Alibozek said.
Liberti has plans to begin his retirement with a trip to Maryland on Tuesday to see his granddaughter, who is less than a year old, and his daughter and son-in-law.