From NHL To Firefighter – Rome’s Sestito Home By Choice
Trading professional hockey for a career as a Rome, New York firefighter is working well for Tim Sestito.
Particularly for athletes, life can appear to move quicker than for people in other professions. For Sestito, grinding out a career in hockey for 13 seasons went in what seemed in a flash. Training camps, regular seasons, playoffs (including the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals with the New Jersey Devils), off-season workouts, the battle for a roster spot was a continuous competitive cycle.
Since skating his last season in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League with Dinamo Riga in Latvia (2016-17), Sestito has dedicated himself to a new set of teammates, in a new arena.
Now in his fourth year as a member of the Rome Fire Department, Sestito is all in on serving the citizens of the city in which he grew up. The 101 NHL games credited to him are long in the former pro's rearview mirror.
The gypsy-like lifestyle of professional athletes, moving from town to town, shifting leagues often in the same season, long separations from family, are not missed. As a fourth-generation member of the Rome Fire Department, Sestito's second career choice offers many rewards.
Stability is tops on the former forward's list.
"The transition was pretty smooth from hockey," said Sestito during a telephone conversation earlier this week. " The hardest adjustment was not being around my teammates. We used to yuk it up in the locker room pretty good. But, I got lucky with my second career. There are 12 guys at the firehouse, and everybody breaks everybody's chops."
Rome's Central Fire Station on Black River Boulevard is where Sestito comes to work now, less than two miles from where he learned the hockey trade at Kennedy Arena on West Embargo Street.
Sestito offers an analogy of life in the firehouse, and skating before crowds in the thousands.
"When the bell rings, we stop what we're doing, and do our job. In hockey, we would kid around in the locker room, but when the puck was dropped, we got serious."
The NHL schedule of flying on charter aircrafts, staying in four-star hotels, and having chef prepared meals has been traded for a different schedule as a firefighter. Now, Sestito's work schedule consists of a 24-hour shift, then three days off. The schedule rotates.
"It took a couple months to settle in," says Sestito, a Utica Fire Academy graduate.
It's refreshing to hear a former professional athlete speak so highly of his new work place and fellow firefighters. There's no living in the past for Sestito. He enjoys going to work, and giving back to a community that kick-started him to reach his hockey dreams.
The camaraderie that was so prevalent during his days with the New Jersey Devils' organization for a half dozen seasons is what Sestito values most with his new teammates. The 12 firefighters assigned to the department's Central Station are an extended family, taking care of other families throughout Rome.
Getting to earn his way into the department was a grind, along the lines of NHL training camps. Physically and mentally challenging, dedication plays a lead role for those hoping to make it in their desired profession.
Sestito tells of he and his fellow recruits all trying to get through their training as one. They bonded, as they found their way. Fast forward three-plus years, and now Sestito has a "handful" of firefighters with less experience on the job than he. No longer the rookie, now, he's helping others settle in with their chosen profession.
In his downtime, Sestito's stick and skates remain nearby, at the ready.
Eight-year-old Jude Sestito's interest in hockey has dad at practices and games alongside him.
"Now, I see what my parents went through with me in youth hockey. Life has come full circle," Sestito tells.
During the 2011-'12 NHL season, at a game in Toronto, New Hartford's Steve Zalewski, Clinton's Nick Palmieri, along with Sestito representing Rome, all three local hockey products were on the ice for the Devils. This was an amazing moment for area youth programs validating that anything is possible, for kids hoping to make it to the NHL.
Sestito couldn't be more content with this life. After seeing the world, he and his wife (a Michigan native) made the choice to put roots back down in Rome. Citing all the activities the Mohawk Valley has to offer, coming home was never in doubt. Serving his neighbors, too, required no hesitation.
"I really got lucky , when I went into my second career," declares Sestito.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.