Home: Hail and Farewell to the Chief

Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano with a class from the elementary school.
Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano with a class from the elementary school.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  

~Dr. Seuss

By Nancy Remkus

I’m not one for crying, but every time I think of my husband Tom Fabiano retiring and leaving the station for his last day as Sag Harbor’s police chief, tears come to my eyes. In life some of us have a job, work at a job, or wish for a job, but for Tom his life is his job. His heart is part of the collective heartbeat of this village which he has worked to protect most of his life.

Tom has been blessed by an incredible career and opportunities to help others. At times he has had to be strong as steel and other times as soft as pine. Not everyone gets to see that soft side of Tom, but I have seen it through the years in countless acts of quiet kindness. I have witnessed his buying everything from cribs to Christmas trees, groceries to gift cards for those in need. He has come home on numerous occasions to gather our gently used clothing and pantry items to give to others. After Hurricane Katrina, Tom rallied the village to fill a sixty-foot trailer with a vast array supplies to be delivered to those in need. In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, Tom and the village ambulance corps delivered much-needed items to the people affected by the storm. Tom has a large and generous heart, which he often cleverly conceals beneath his badge and bulletproof vest.

Being married to Tom has had its share of challenges: buzzers, beepers and phone calls in the middle of the night, shift work, late nights and early mornings, always being on call, working holidays and trying to sleep after a midnight shift with a colicky newborn in the house. He has witnessed his share of sadness, illness, and accidents – yet his passion for the department and for the people of Sag Harbor has remained steadfast.

As a volunteer fireman for over thirty years, Tom has been a constant presence in this village. He has served on numerous committees and has always kept the best interest of the people at heart. Born and raised in Sag Harbor, this will always be his home. If someone needs help, Tom is always there.

Tom, dressed in red from head to toe, has helped Santa out by making appearances at the elementary school’s Morning Program. He’s grilled thousands of hotdogs for the elementary school’s beach day and picnic day over the years, and after hours, he would show up in my classroom to help move furniture, organize materials and staple the paper borders on my bulletin boards with perfect 45-degree angle cuts. Tom’s presence in the school over the years has helped the children get to know and trust police officers.

When asked how his career began, Tom said that while he was working as a carpenter his friend had gotten a job as a police officer for the village. When asked how he went about that, his friend said he talked to former police chief John Harrington and was given a job. So Tom went to John Harrington and was hired part time. Chief Harrington “gave me a uniform and a gun and told me not to shoot anyone” and that is how his career began. Later he attended the police academy and has continued his education and training throughout his career. The early days as a police officer were challenging, “most often you worked by yourself, and Sag Harbor had more bars than anyplace around. You had to deal with all the calls yourself including the bar fights and learn fast how to diffuse the situation by just talking. There wasn’t much in the way of backup.” Over the years he has continued to solve numerous cases and make arrests.

One of the happiest days of his career came when Main Street was filled with supporters, and store windows were adorned with posters supporting his position as chief. Much like a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Tom was able to feel kindness and affection from hundreds of people he worked to protect. One of the saddest times of his career was when two officers were terminated from the department. “That was a major loss to us.”

The day Tom became police chief was the most momentous day of his career. “I had reached one of the goals I had set for my life.” Jokingly he said, “I no longer had to work midnight shifts,” but then he added, “Now I was in a place where I could help the department get the equipment and training needed. Unfortunately we don’t live in the same sleepy village we used to. I became chief right before 9/11 and then things changed. The critical incident team was created, which included East Hampton Village, East Hampton Town and Sag Harbor Village police departments. They are trained to respond to serious public safety threats. Throughout the country, there has been an increase of violence in schools and public places so we started to train for tactical responses to these situations. The protocol used to be to wait for backup; now you have to have an immediate response. We train and work with the schools to help keep our children safe.”

The new police station, built while Tom was at the helm, is something he is particularly proud of. It seemed to enhance the professionalism of the department and stands as part of his legacy here. “In the 70’s we used to work out of a two room building, now we have an amazing facility that everyone can be proud of.” Tom often heads to work with his toolbox ready to fix anything that might need his attention.

Tom has been on hand to help with every event in the village. Up early in the morning, uniform pressed, boots shined, he has been there to set barricades for parades and public events. He has never wanted to miss a thing. “This is a village and a department that I am very proud of. I have always enjoyed working with the men and women on the force.” Along with his department, Tom has worked tirelessly to keep the people of Sag Harbor safe. He has stood up to the powers that be to maintain adequate manpower and has never been afraid to defend what he believes in. He has an incredible working knowledge of the law and how to proceed in any given situation.

After spending two thirds of his life working as a police officer, detective, sergeant and chief of the department, Tom’s stepping down will be no easy task. I wonder what it will be like for him to no longer be the chief: to not have the police vehicle parked in the yard, to wake up and not put on his uniform? Tom has held this village and its people in his heart. He has worn his uniform and carried his badge with incredible gratitude and pride. He has given so much of his life to help make Sag Harbor a wonderful place to call HOME.