Tom Coon retires after three decades of service

When it comes to careers, it might be fair to say Tom Coon was blessed with beginner’s luck.

Coming from a firefighting family — his father, Reginald, and his two uncles both served with the Bridgeport Fire Department — Mr. Coon knew from a young age he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

“I loved going down to the firehouse with my father,” he said during his final shift last week, adding that the sights and sounds there and the family events when his father and uncles would tell stories of the fires they had been to just stoked his desire.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of that.’ I didn’t care much where I served, I just wanted to be in the fire service.”

So, fresh out of Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, he applied for the first position he saw, which happened to be in Wilton.

At the time, Mr. Coon had no direct fire experience. He’d never been a volunteer firefighter. But he studied for and took the three-part test — written, agility, and oral boards — and he was successful.

He joined the Wilton Fire Department in October 1980. On Friday, Jan. 31, at 7 a.m., he finished his final shift and retired effective Feb. 1.

The first few years of his career he spent a lot of time being trained, because, he discovered, he was one of only a few firefighters hired who didn’t come with a volunteer background.

When asked what he enjoyed most about his career, he said, “I love the camaraderie among the members of the department.

“We work 24-hour shifts, we live together. We share our ups and downs. We get to know one another’s families. It’s very group-minded.”

The unpredictable nature of the job also appealed to him.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” he said.

One memorable call occurred in 1986. “We responded to a house fire on Olmstead Hill Road. There was an elderly woman trapped inside. We pulled her out and I did CPR,” he said. Not only did the woman survive the incident, she lived for many years after.

“It was a group effort,” he said, that was recognized by the Wilton Fire Department and Connecticut Firefighters Association.

Not surprisingly, many things have changed since he began his career 33 years ago, most notably in the area of personal protection.

“Our equipment has come a long way, from our helmets to our boots and everything in between,” he said.

The department’s role as an emergency service has expanded as well. “It is so much more than fires. We go to all kinds of emergencies,” he said.

“When someone is at their wit’s end, they call the fire department. We have rescued our share of cats in trees, dogs in ice, ducks in storm drains,” he said with a smile. “We respond to strange odors and smells. We have two dozen types of elevator keys. We have a way to get in.”

When they are not out on a call, the firefighters spend their mornings performing preventive maintenance on the department’s trucks.

“We check our vehicles from front to back,” he said, cleaning and washing equipment. That is followed by two hours of training.

“In the afternoon we work on special projects the chief assigns.”

When asked if the community could do anything to help firefighters, he said, “Lots of houses don’t have numbers on them. Some have common drives that aren’t well marked. Houses being better marked would be helpful, especially at night.”

Deputy Chief Mark Amatrudo described Mr. Coon as “a firefighter’s firefighter. By that, I mean that he was a quiet leader who mastered his craft, empathetic to the public, provided training and guidance where necessary without making a big deal of it, and could be depended upon to complete any task assigned to him. He always maintained his calm disposition and professionalism, no matter what circumstances he faced. Tom was a steadying influence and an informal leader to the new guys, as well as veteran firefighters.

“Although training will still take place, the usual joking will go on and the trucks will still respond, things will be different. Tom will be gone, but his legacy will remain with us. Although we will miss him, we wish him a long and happy retirement. As is the case in the fire service, we look forward to our other veteran firefighters assuming the roles and responsibilities that Tom previously completed so well.”

During his tenure Mr. Coon was involved in the firefighters’ union, Local 2233, which he enjoyed. The union runs a Toys for Tots drive every year and sponsors a holiday lunch for seniors at Ogden House, among other community service projects.

“I’ve been on every committee I could get my hands on,” he said. “That’s kept me busy. I’ve had no time for outside hobbies.”

That will change quickly. Mr. Coon and his wife, Lori, sold their house in Shelton and she is already in their new home on the east coast of Florida.

“I’m going to have to take up some hobbies,” he said. “I have to learn to golf and fish.”

In some ways, Wilton won’t be far behind. “I’ve loved my entire career here,” he said. “I have warm memories I will look back on for years to come.”