Wilton firefighter retires after 28 years in his ‘dream’ career

WILTON — Kevin Czarnecki was the first in his family to attend college. He graduated with a degree in engineering, keeping the promise to his parents that he would pursue a career in the field of his major.

But there was something else calling the Wilton native.

“Before I went to college, I went: ‘Just so you know, I want to be a fireman,’” said Czarnecki, 50. “I was a little hesitant to let my parents know at first.”

He ruminated on that early desire, that early ‘dream’ he had, that propelled him into an almost 30-year career as a paid firefighter for his hometown department. That dream career, the one he said he is so thankful to have had the chance to fulfill, came to a close with a smile this past week as Czarnecki hung up his helmet and sauntered out of the firehouse one last time.

Czarnecki didn’t come from a long line of firefighters; he was initially attracted to serving the town through the lens of his brother’s volunteerism with the fire department.

“Watching him and his friends, a lot of them were volunteers, it enticed me,” Czarnecki said, adding that he would listen for the calls that they would go on. Soon enough, he started training with them. “Then I went to college.”

He chuckled as he recalled telling his parents not to worry, that he would still pursue engineering — and he has. Czarnecki has worked as a fire protection engineer for Kohler Ronan Consulting Engineers for 29 years, initially joining the firm upon finishing his undergraduate degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

At the time, he was still moonlighting as a volunteer EMT and fireman. However, Czarnecki got his full-time shot with the Norwalk Fire Department in 1994 one year after graduating college and joining Kohler Ronan.

“Once I was hired in Norwalk, I stopped being a volunteer,” Czarnecki said. He spent eight months in the neighboring city, building both knowledge and relationships before a crossroads was presented to him.

He now had the opportunity to change locations and apply for a new department. Czarnecki said he very much enjoyed his time in Norwalk and the decision was tough, but there was only one other place he would have chosen.

“The only place I’d leave Norwalk for was to come back to my hometown,” he said. Soon enough, he was afforded that option and came home to serve Wilton. “It was definitely a difficult decision, but it was the right decision.”

That decision led Czarnecki to his long career in Wilton that he said has had many memorable moments.

“I responded, along with four others, down to New York on Sept. 11,” he said. “We were there for 24 hours or so. That was a life-changing event.”

He noted several other key incidents he has responded to, whether it be during the COVID-19 pandemic, house fires in town or providing mutual aid to nearby departments. He remembers all of it, and so do his fellow firefighters.

“As you drive past a part of town, you can look at it and remember exactly what happened there and when it happened,” Czarnecki said. “You never forget.”

And he won’t forget in retirement either.

He will now just be able to put more focus into his other most important job: being a father and a husband. He said that, as a first responder, he has constantly been on call to help when beckoned, even when off duty. Now, Czarnecki said he will “have time to be there” and spend more uninterrupted time with his family.

He’ll still give back to his secondary, first responder family too. Czarnecki said he will continue to teach for the state fire academy. He will continue his engineering work as well. And as he looks back on his career with fondness, he closed with a few words of wisdom for the next generation of young men and women looking to serve just as he had.

“Whatever you do, give it your all and don’t forget to cherish the relationship you’ve forged along the way,” Czarnecki said, “because before you know it, it’s over.”