Mark Zambito did not have much time to become acclimated to his new role as chief of the Worthington Division of Fire and EMS.

Zambito, the division's former assistant fire chief, was named acting chief Feb. 17, the day after the previous chief, John Bailot, served his last day. Bailot announced his resignation in January so he could be closer to his family near St. Louis, taking a job with the city of Collinsville Fire Department in western Illinois.

His promotion to chief was effective March 16.

Over the next several weeks, the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus had state and local officials canceling almost every public event and closing schools, and as of 11:59 p.m. March 23, a stay-at-home order had been issued to residents by Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton.

"I'm jumping in with both feet," Zambito said. "But the folks I have around me, the firefighters and lieutenants and captains, make it extremely easy getting tasks accomplished."

One of his first decisions was the establishment of Station 102.

Because of his concern about the spread of the coronavirus among staff members, Zambito has converted a portion of the Worthington Community Center, which was closed by executive order, into a fire substation, complete with a kitchen, dining area and bunk room, Zambito said.

The substation, known as Station 102, was activated March 18, according to the city. Station 101 is the primary location of the fire division at 6500 N. High St.

Nine firefighters, on a rotation of three at a time, are assigned to the Community Center. A ladder truck and ambulance also are stationed there for the time being.

Zambito, 44, oversees a staff of 36 full-time, 12 part-time employees and one civilian employee. He said the city also planned to name someone to replace him as assistant chief.

"Chief Zambito is stepping up as chief during a crucial time for our community," said city spokesperson Anne Brown. "He loves Worthington and cares deeply about the health and well-being of all of our citizens.

"He is doing a great job leading our team of first responders and providing guidance to city leadership during this emergency."

Zambito's annual salary will be $124,000, and his benefits are valued at approximately $59,000, including the required employer contribution to the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, according to city spokesperson Anne Brown.

Zambito started his career in fire service in 1996 in Charleston, West Virginia.

He took a job in Worthington in 2001 as a firefighter and paramedic and was promoted to lieutenant in 2014. Zambito left in 2016 to become deputy fire chief in Upper Arlington and also had the opportunity to be named interim fire chief for four months.

When he saw a job being posted in Worthington, he applied, yearning to go back to the fire division. Upon his return, he was named assistant fire chief in 2018.

"I learned to crawl in Charleston, West Virginia; I learned to run in Worthington, Ohio," Zambito said. "I lived in Worthington for 10 years. The opportunity was in front of me. Professionally, this is home."

He now lives in Delaware County with his wife, Lori, and their children, Collin, 14, Jared, 12, and Gavin, 5.

The job is personal to Zambito, as well.

His father, Michael Zambito, who died six months ago, was a retired assistant fire chief from Wheeling, West Virginia.

"As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a firefighter," he said, "and I've always wanted to chase that dream."

Zambito also had kind words for Bailot and his time as chief.

"He had high energy and he got things accomplished," Zambito said. "He had kind of a refreshing point of view."

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary