New Wilton fire captain stayed the course to achieve his dream

Photo of J.D. Freda

WILTON — The town’s newest fire chief brings more than 30 years of experience fighting fires, but it was almost a career that didn’t happen.

Michael Blatchley, a Bethany native who was sworn in on Monday, acknowledged his fire fighting career almost didn’t materialize — twice — as he once had a different dream.

“Initially, I wanted to be a police officer,” Blatchley said of his desires as a young man attending Amity High School. At the time of his graduation in 1990, he was already applying to become a Connecticut State Trooper. He even recalls a state trooper coming to his childhood home to thoroughly interview him.

“Basically, they told me that I was the ideal candidate that they were looking for,” Blatchley said. “He said that, probably, the only thing that could really push my application over the top was some type of volunteer service.”

In a small town like Bethany, he said, his options were limited. He and a friend became intrigued at the prospect of volunteering at the local fire department.

At 18, Blatchley walked into a firehouse, a place he said he immediately fell in love with, and he hasn’t walked out since.

While enrolled in classes with the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department, Blatchley still awaited the results of his state police application.

“Well, I ended up getting rejected for my eyesight without eyeglasses,” Blatchley said.

Following the rejection in 1991, Blatchley still held on to the hope his fate would change. He wanted to remain steadfast and continue to take police tests. Shortly thereafter, he said the age limit to become a police officer was raised from 18 to 21. If for nothing else, this provided him a bit of time to just focus on a noticeably growing affinity for serving with the fire department.

Blatchley continued down that path, working diligently to become a full-time firefighter and, in 1997, he had secured what he said he considered his dream job in the exact place he wanted to be. After serving as a volunteer for most of the 1990s in Bethany, Blatchley became a full-time member of the New Haven Fire Department, stationed in the same firehouse that his then-retiring uncle had been fire captain of.

Feeling like he’d finally made it to where he was supposed to be, a curveball was suddenly thrown at him.

After working night shifts in New Haven for eight to nine months, Blatchley received a letter from the state police. It noted a class action lawsuit result that anyone who had been denied entry into the academy prior due to “uncorrected vision less than 20/40 that could be corrected to 20/20,” would have to be at least offered the opportunity for employment.

Blatchley took the letter with him to his shift that night, conflicted and caught between pursuing the dream job he had as a child or maintaining course of the gig that he fell in love with at the firehouse.

He showed one of his fellow firefighter the letter.

“He kept going ‘Kid, what’re you going to do kid? This is a great job, kid,’” Blatchley recalled of his colleague. “I just didn’t know.”

Then, as he was talking about a decision he knew would impact the rest of his life, he caught a whiff of something and peered over his shoulder to see another colleague had just finished dinner for the entire firehouse.

“I still remember what was for dinner,” Blatchley recalled, “sausage and broccoli.”

It was then, at that very moment, Blatchley’s decision was made. It was the camaraderie, the family feel in the firehouse that initially drew him in and now was keeping him there.

“I knew I was where I wanted to be,” he said.

In 1998, Blatchley also became a member of the American Medical Response team in New Haven, an ambulatory service where he buffed his emergency medical technician skills. He spent the next 15 years in New Haven where he met his wife, a then-Yale theater graduate student.

Anticipating a career move to New York City for her theater career, he started looking more towards southwestern Connecticut to move his career and family. Greenwich first offered him a role in 2012, one he wasn’t yet ready to accept.

Then, the Wilton Fire Department offered him a role in 2013 as a firefighter and EMT. Blatchley happily accepted and was on his way to a place that had more of a “small town feel” like his hometown after serving in a city for the better part of two decades.

Blatchley said that COVID provided a unique challenge for him and his cohort, forcing everyone to be fluid and constantly change their approach to solving problems. But he said he welcomed the challenge, as helping others solve their problems is one of the reasons he fell in love with serving the department.

“The greatest thing with the fire service is if you call 911, you’re gonna get two to six guys in Wilton showing up at your door to fix whatever problem you may have,” he said. “Whether your house is ablaze, whether you are having a heart attack, whether a pipe is leaking or a a fire alarm or smoke detectors are going off, well-trained people are there to fix your problem.”

Now, as one of four fire captains, he looks to give back his knowledge to the younger generation of firefighters coming up and hopes to instill the same fervor for serving that he has had throughout his career.