When he departs at the end of the week, Wilton Fire Chief Paul Milositz will leave behind a bigger, better-equipped department than the one he found when he arrived Jan. 1, 2003.

“It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work here,” he said. “The members of the fire department are excellent at what they do. They care about their job and the residents. They are willing to do almost anything to help them.”

As chief he has been responsible for all the functions of the department including responding to emergencies, making sure training is accomplished, the building is maintained, the trucks are in good working order and the paperwork is done.

“It’s the full gamut of a business,” he said. “It equates to the CEO of a business.”

He is also the town’s emergency management director and as such he has been responsible for the coordination of each town department into one plan to ensure emergency preparedness to face any manmade or natural disaster.

During his tenure, Mr. Milositz has overseen the replacement of all trucks except one, and that truck’s replacement is on order.

The number of firefighters on duty has been increased to six at any one time.

“We have a ways to go with that number,” he said, but any increases need to be balanced with the needs of the town and the town’s ability to pay.

“Certainly we need additional manpower, but with our mutual aid it seems to be working.”

Career firefighter

Mr. Milositz is a lifelong firefighter. He joined the Air Force right out of high school, and worked as a hospital medic.

It was the mid-70s and the Vietnam War was winding down. With military cutbacks he had the opportunity to be cross-trained as a firefighter, cook or security policeman.

He was a volunteer firefighter at the time so he “jumped on that,” he said. He served 21 years as a firefighter in the Air Force and when he retired he was stationed in Colorado Springs. He then became chief of the Cripple Creek fire department. A native of Connecticut, he returned with his wife and son to be near family when he came to Wilton.

Asked if he has seen changes in firefighting over the years he said, “we are responding to fewer fires but they are different. They burn hotter and faster than before.

“The newer construction is lighter weight — fires grow faster,” he said.

Fires are more hazardous because of materials like furnishings, he explained; there are more plastics and “things that cause hazardous fumes.”

The fire department is also on the front line of emergency services and said the town has been “very progressive” in requiring all firefighters to be trained at the EMT level.

“The way we respond, the town gets a good bang for the dollars spent,” he said.

The biggest issue facing the department, he said, is staffing.

“There have been challenges, with disagreements on the interpretation of contracts, but it’s worked out in a very manageable and fruitful way,” he said.

When asked why the department has no women firefighters, Mr. Milositz said that was one area he regretted being unable to change.

“We have had some women applicants, but they didn’t score well enough to advance in the hiring process,” he said, referring to a test of knowledge applicants must take.

“We try to take the top” scorers, he said.

As for feelings of discrimination, he said, “for the most part we’re past that. There are still some of my generation ... but the next generation that will completely go away. At least I hope so.

“I would like to see more women apply and do well on the testing.”

Memories

As for what he will remember, he said his time here has been marked with happy times and tragic times.

Last year’s Wilton Crest fire is still fresh but a fatal fire on River Road where two lives were lost is also hard to forget.

“That was a hard time,” he said. “We hadn’t lost anyone in a fire in a long time. Our job is to keep that from happening.

“It was too late for us to do anything, but not for lack of trying.

“There are traffic accidents where people have died. People you know. That’s bad.”

But there are also good things.

“The promotions we’ve made, new people we’ve hired, babies that have come. It’s just like a family,” he said.

“There are big events, tragic events, happy events. That’s how we mark time.”

As for the future of firefighting, Mr. Milositz thinks much will change. “We’ll still be fighting fires and saving lives.”

The question to ask, he said, is how can we do things smarter.

“When will we get smart enough to require sprinklers in houses?” he asked. “Until then there will still be fires with deaths.”

“If you are going to see any changes in the fire service, how do you engineer danger out of homes?”

His advice to people is simple: “Make sure that smoke detector is working.” Next, “teach kids how to be safe in an emergency. What to do if mom and dad aren’t home. If they are out, and an emergency happens, make sure they know who to call. If mom and dad are home, know how to get out.

“Be smart about your safety. You are not safe all the time. People take for granted nothing will happen.”

The Wilton Fire Commission — Gary Mecozzi, Troy Ellen Dixon, Rich McCarty — is in the process of conducting a search for Mr. Milositz’s successor.

As for himself, Mr. Milositz will be moving to central Florida — to the Kissimmee area — to pursue new opportunities outside the fire department.

But he will not soon forget his tenure here.

He had praise for Wilton’s civil servants with whom he has worked.

“The people at town hall are outstanding,” he said. “They are a great group of hard-working town employees who are much maligned but get the job done in a professional manner. This town is lucky.

“This has been the best part of my career.”