By ROB GLIDDEN
Apple Harvest Festival organizers have chosen Neil Casarella, who retired from the Southington Fire Department in August after 38 years of service, as this year’s Grand Marshal.
“I was really honored and a little surprised,” he said.
Casarella has also served as an ex-officio member of the festival’s supervisory committee, helping the town navigate the legal red tape during the process of adding an annual fireworks display to the event.
The grand marshal for each year’s festival is given the chance to sit comfortably in a car while taking a trip through downtown Southington, although Casarella said he may ride in a fire truck this year. The parade is traditionally the most popular and well-attended event of the festival and Casarella was been part of it in past years, marching with a group of local firefighters.
“We really wanted to find someone that contributes not just to the Apple Harvest Festival but to the town as a whole,” said Town Councilor Chris Palmieri, who chairs the supervisory committee. “He definitely fit the bill.”
Casarella joined the fire department in 1973 as a volunteer and gradually worked his way up through the ranks, retiring as a Captain and Deputy Fire Marshal. He is known for advancing the department’s public outreach, including coordinating fire safety classes for school students and helping to establish an annual fire prevention poster contest.
One of his last duties in the department was overseeing the effort to extinguish and investigate the fire at Rex Forge in early August.
In a column published in The Observer in July, Firefighter Glenn Dube wrote that “Neil has made a profound impact on our department and our community…his easygoing, friendly manner will be sorely missed.”
He has attended the festival often, both as a civilian and a representative of the fire department. He often spoke about fire safety to festival attendees from the Public Safety Trailer on Apple Alley. In his role as Grand Marshal, he will be front and center during the parade and will appear du
ring the opening ceremonies.
“I’ve been a lifetime resident so I’ve gone to the Apple Harvest for a long time,” Casarella said. “It’s a great event.”