Wilton promotes captain to fire chief
James Blanchfield, whose love of the fire service caused him to change careers, will become the new chief of the Wilton Fire Department.
Blanchfield was named to the permanent position that has been empty for almost a year. His appointment to a four-year term was announced Friday by Fire Commission Chair Casey Healy and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.
Beginning July 1, Blanchfield will serve as the department’s acting deputy fire chief. He will assume the chief’s position on Nov. 1, when Interim Chief Geoffrey R. Herald is planning to leave.
“I’ve been very lucky to work in a fantastic fire department,” Blanchfield told The Bulletin. “This is such a unique opportunity to lead the department and to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I love the fire service.”
“I look forward to working with Jim and am confident in his future success as Wilton's next Fire Chief,” said Vanderslice. “I’m particularly pleased that Jim’s promotion creates additional promotional opportunities within the department.”
Blanchfield’s love of the fire service began at a young age.
“I grew up across the street from a firehouse,” he said, adding he and the neighborhood kids were there “all the time.”
His first career took him in a different direction, though, as he became a real estate attorney for many years. But in his 20s when he moved to Trumbull, which had a volunteer force, he joined up and eventually moved up the ranks to captain..
Blanchfield joined Wilton’s paid service 14 years ago and has held the ranks of captain, lieutenant and firefighter. He was named a lieutenant in July 2015 and then just four months later, was named a captain. He has served on the fire and police dive team and as a safety officer, as well as a fire officer. For many years, Blanchfield has led the department’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony.
Blanchfield has also served as an adjunct fire instructor for both the Connecticut Fire Academy and Fairfield Fire Training School. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and received his Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from Quinnipiac College School of Law.
When asked what his priorities would be as chief, Blanchfield said, “right off the bat, I will be speaking with everybody at town hall, the police, about what the community’s expectations are of the department. Are we meeting them?”
With the department responding to all kinds of emergencies beyond fighting fires, “I want to make sure we are meeting expectations,” he said.
Training is one aspect that is ongoing. “We had scheduled very advanced extrication and rescue training that the pandemic put on hold,” he said. “We are in the process of revamping and getting up to speed” after spending considerable time training on responding to the pandemic.
He expects that to continue as he looks to the future.
“I think there will be a continued expansion of the expectations of what we are responsible for in town,” he said. “Over the next five to 10 years the vision will continue to change.”
Along with responding to the pandemic, firefighters have also been training with the police and EMS on responding to an active aggressor, such as a shooter. Keeping up with technology will also be important.
“Firefighters want to help people. The incidents may change but that doesn’t. We see our role continue to be modified and the team is absolutely on board with all of that,” he said.
Additionally, Blanchfield sees an opportunity for leadership in the department to stabilize following the departure of former Chief Ron Kanterman in July 2019.
“Chief Herald has done a fantastic job for the department and the community and I’m excited to work with him,” Blanchfield said.
“It is important to have continuity,” said Healy. “Jim has served the fire department well and he will continue to lead with respect, knowledge and compassion that our town needs during these challenging times.”
An initial fire chief candidate proposed by the Fire Commission was rejected by the Board of Selectmen on April 28. The name of the candidate was not released and the board gave no reason for not hiring the Fire Commission’s nominee.
Nearly a month later, on May 21, the selectmen voted to execute an employment agreement with a second candidate. Blanchfield’s name was not announced at that time.