A Textbook Case Of Addition by Subtraction: Caramello’s Brief Teaching Career Gave Birth to a Long and Distinguished Tenure with the RFD

August 10, 2011
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Fire Lt. Jim Caramello with his close friend Mickey ‘Say No to Drugs’ Casoli at a retirement ceremony in front of the Central Fire Station earlier this summer. Caramello spent three decades on the Fire Department after spending some six years as a math teacher at RHS.

Fire Lt. Jim Caramello took a strange path to the Revere Fire Department.

In fact, before landing on a fire truck, he never dreamt of dousing out flames or providing life saving services to those in distress.

What he mostly did was teach mathematics at Revere High School (RHS), following in his father’s footsteps – a man who also devoted his career to teaching.

Six years into Caramello’s teaching career at RHS, everything changed completely. Hit by the Proposition 2 ½ cuts in 1982, Caramello lost his teaching job. As it turns out, the tragedy bred a blessing.

“Everything was going great,” he said. “I was coaching sports and teaching and loving it. Then things got upended. Fortunately, the fire service provided me another opportunity to provide for my family for the last 32 years. As it turned out, I had been illegally ripped from my teaching position and had the opportunity to return, but I found that I enjoyed the excitement and rewards of being a firefighter. So, I stayed in public safety.”

And Caramello stayed in the firefighting line of work for three decades before calling it a career and retiring earlier this summer. He served as a firefighter and advanced to lieutenant, while also serving as a union leader for more than half of his career.

Like his journey to the department from teaching, Caramello’s ability to be a firefighter came on a fluke – born out of heeding the advice of former Firefighter Kevin Oldoni’s father, who suggested Caramello and his friends take the Civil Service exam in the mid-1970s.

“When we took that Civil Service exam, I was still in college,” said Caramello. “Kevin’s father, who was on the job as a firefighter at the time, told all of us teen-agers at the time to jump in the car and go to Lynn Classical to take the exam. The point is if I hadn’t taken that Civil Service exam, then I never would have been able to spend all my years in the fire service.”

It was because of taking that test that Caramello sat at the top of the firefighter-hiring list when he was laid off from teaching, allowing a quick transition.

One of the highlights of his career, he said, was being called to help out after the devastating events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He said it was professionally fulfilling, but he also said that his family was extremely understanding of his travels.

“One of the most fulfilling things in my career was being officially activated to go to New York City for the 9/11 tragedy and also being activated for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans,” he said. “My wife, Lynne, understood the importance of these events and never put any pressure on me not to attend or do my duty.”

He also listed the conflagration on Shirley Avenue in 1991 as being particularly challenging.

“Obviously, being on the fire service in the 1980s there was a lot of action whereas nowadays due to Inspectional Service and smoke detectors – fortunately – the number of fires are down,” he said. “Being involved in an incident – a conflagration in 1991 on Shirley Avenue – was one of my highlights. That was a 10-alarm fire and destroyed 11 homes. That’s not something everyone experiences in their career.”

He also enjoyed serving as a union official.

Most recently, he was the president of the union for the last six years. Previously, he served 10 years as the secretary/treasurer.

“Being a union leader for more than half my career – being able to serve my members to the best of my ability, working with management to secure the best contracts available – was a truly fulfilling experience,” he said. “Whether I was dealing with Tom Ambrosino, Bob Haas or anybody else, being able to represent Local 926 in a professional manner – getting the respect of our political leaders, is what strong labor is all about. I wish 926 continued success and support of their strong leadership.”

He said working with Mayor Ambrosino was particularly rewarding, and said he appreciated the current mayor’s honesty and integrity during contract negotiations.

Ambrosino said the same about Caramello.

“I have worked with him on numerous contracts during my tenure and Jim’s integrity is solid,” said the mayor. “When he gives you his word and shakes your hand, you can take that to the bank.”

Caramello indicated that he wanted to thank several people publicly, including Kevin Oldoni, his brothers and sisters on the Fire Department, State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, Fire Chief Gene Doherty, his family, and his close friend Mickey ‘Say No to Drugs’ Casoli.

Caramello said that while he is retired, he is not putting himself out to pasture.

Though he doesn’t have a bead on exactly what he will do, he said he has plenty of energy left to tackle something new.

“I am looking forward to pursuing some new endeavor or challenge in life,” he said. “Right now, I’m going to take some time.”

Caramello is married to his wife, Lynne, and they have a daughter, Kaitlyn, who is a junior at RHS and is also a standout player on the girl’s varsity basketball team.

“Whether it’s military service, the police or firefighting, those are special kinds of jobs and they require the utmost respect for the job with attention to training and safety,” he said. “There’s a lot to be said about helping people. There’s nothing more rewarding than to come to someone’s home and provide them with some sort of helpful service. Those are the lasting memories I’ll take with me.”

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