When Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin recognized Charlie Esposito’s three decades of service to the city at a council meeting in late 2021, he noted Esposito’s birthday: Independence Day, 1928, “a possible precursor for a life celebrated and steeped in patriotism and service.”
Esposito, a veteran, had built up Palm Coast’s volunteer corps before Palm Coast became a city in 1999, doing the same for the city’s Fire Police, and establishing safety and training protocols, including for the county’s emergency helicopter, that are still followed today.
The Palm Coast Fire Department on Wednesday announced Esposito’s death. He was 95. Services are scheduled for Jan. 20.
“When you have volunteers, you are always hoping for a combination of a great heart,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Kyle Berryhill said today, “and then some kind of ability to get the thing done. A great heart without any of the skills is nice, but it doesn’t always seem as helpful. And that’s definitely from our perspective as a volunteer, Charlie had both–a heart for service and a great professional capacity to be a trusted adviser. He was huge adviser to Chief Beadle,” who led the city fire services before Berryhill and Jerry Forte, and oversaw Berryhill’s rise. “Charlie was a senior member of this department, he’s someone that I looked up to as a young firefighter here.
Former Palm Coast Fire Chief Jerry Forte had summed up Esposito’s impact in a brief video tribute a couple of years ago. “When you look at what Charlie did, first and foremost as a volunteer,” Forte said, “he built the numbers up, he got people involved and activated, he brought in a higher level of expectation for the organization as the volunteer president, established bylaws, established rules and responsibilities. It’s a lot of the groundwork that Charlie did that made the volunteer group itself much better.”
Esposito had lived in Tuxedo, N.Y., worked for ITT Corporation–the company that designed and built the original Palm Coast–and became a volunteer firefighter early in his career, starting in Tuxedo (the fire department there is also preparing a tribute).
When he relocated to Palm Coast, he joined the volunteers in 1995, eventually becoming the captain, vice president and president of the fire department’s volunteer corporation. He also served on its Volunteer Firefighters’ Pension Fund Board and created the Length of Service Awards Program, and most notably, built up and led the fire police.
As the Fire Police Captain, he established the criteria for incident responses on streets and highways, with particular focus on rigorous training. “He was instrumental in establishing the city of Palm Coast’s emergency helicopter landing zones for trauma helicopters,” says Howard Peiffer, the current vice president of Palm Coast Volunteer Fire Rescue, Inc., a non-profit. “He worked with the county government to establish those landing zones which are still in use today.”
“Any time you’re driving in palm Coast and you see an LZ with a number behind it, that Charlie’s legacy that he put into place,” Forte said.
“He helped establish the foundation that ensures his name will forever be etched in the archives of Palm Coast firefighter history,” Alfin said. “I am honored to represent the Palm Coast City Council and all of our residents to acknowledge his dedication to and tireless support for enhancing the lives of his fellow firefighters. Charlie Esposito is the epitome of grace, integrity, service and dignity.”
Berryhill recalls Esposito from his first days as a firefighter, when the department was not the size it is today. “Everyone had multiple duties, and one of Charlie’s additional duties was to provide a set of eyes for our plan reviews for some of the building that occurred in the city,” Berryhill said. It was a high-growth period, so Esposito worked with the fire marshal on safety plans for community buildings, putting to work what Peiffer called an eye for detail and a sense of vigilance in all he did.
Services will be at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, 4600 Belle Terre Parkway, Palm Coast, on Jan. 20. Visitations will be at 12:30 p.m., with a service at 1:30 p.m.