Fire chief: ‘It’s been my heart and soul’
• Fire & EMS chief began volunteering as a teenager
The new chief of the Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department is a lifelong Canton resident who began serving with Fire & EMS when he was 14.
Now 29, Johnathan Gotaski took the chief’s reins in April. His most recent Fire & EMS position was as assistant chief of fire operations, a role that is now held by Joe Ouimette, who was the department’s deputy chief of training.
“We look forward to the department’s continued dedication to excellence, professionalism and commitment to service under the leadership of chief Gotaski,” says First Selectman Bob Bessel.
Following is Today Magazine’s Q&A with Canton’s new Fire & EMS chief:
What year did you begin serving as a volunteer firefighter, and in your current role?
In 2006, at age 14, I became a fire cadet with the Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department. At 16, I earned my MRT (medical response technician) certificate from the state of Connecticut. When I turned 18, I joined the department as an exterior firefighter. Then, in 2010, I completed the state of CT Firefighter I & II Interior Certifications. The Canton Board of Selectmen appointed me chief of the department on April 14.
What is your full-time job?
I’ve been a career (paid) firefighter with the city of New Haven since 2015. In 2019, I was also hired by the Hartford County Fire School as an instructor.
Previous work history:
From 2013-15 I worked for Vintech Management Services as an EMT throughout the Farmington Valley. I graduated with a degree in fire science from Capital Community College in 2013. I’ve continued to pursue specialized educational opportunities, including state certificates in: aerial, hazardous materials and pump operations, and confined space rescue.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised and continue to live in Canton.
Why did you decide to become a volunteer firefighter?
My family was a major influence. My grandfather John Gotaski and grand-uncle Michael were charter members of the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department Inc., one of three predecessor fire organizations that consolidated into today’s Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department. My dad Tom currently serves as the department’s chief engineer, managing all apparatus.
Most fulfilling aspect of your volunteer work?
Giving back to the community that believed in, trained and provided me with the tools and inspiration to pursue my dream career as a firefighter. I’m proud to bring my experiences as a New Haven firefighter back home to support Canton.
Most challenging aspect of your work, and how you meet the challenge?
Recruiting, retaining and managing a membership of different backgrounds, personalities, talents and experiences into a cohesive volunteer organization.
Most memorable fire calls?
My first structure fire, at Canton Springs Road — I was a 15-year-old fire cadet, arriving at the scene on an engine driven by my father.
Anecdote that provides a snapshot of your firefighting work:
When someone calls 911, they aren’t having a good day. Our goal is to always improve upon the possible outcomes of any emergency situation.
Of the movies or TV dramas you’ve seen about fire departments, which one comes closest to the real deal?
The best thing about my town is:
Canton is a small, tight-knit community that has always supported its volunteer firefighters and EMTs.
The main thing I’d like to see change in my town is:
I look forward to Canton supporting the building of a new Collinsville fire station — one that not only meets regulatory standards, but is designed to focus on the training, housing, safety and health of our volunteer members, and also provide space for community public safety and prevention training.
Other volunteer experience?
It’s always been about the Fire & EMS services for me. It’s been my heart and soul.
Favorite spots in the Farmington Valley:
Walking along the Farmington River Trail with my niece Madison.
Family — Mom and Dad: Cynthia and Tom • Younger brother Jordan, sister-in-law Kelsey and beloved 4-year-old niece Madison
With deep humility I accept the appointment to chief of department, and the significant responsibility to our members, Canton’s residents and businesses. I take all the lessons learned from the past and pledge to meet the ever-changing challenges before us.
I’m excited to move forward with the road map outlined in the department’s strategic plan to pursue a path for the ideal future that will drive our membership, control our budget, and manage our operations. +
— Special to Today Magazine
• This article first appeared in the June edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
• Today Magazine covers the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley, recording the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns — Farmington, Avon, Canton, Simsbury and Granby