Wilton Fire Department gains new officers

The Wilton Fire Department filled major gaps in its officer ranks with the promotion of two captains and two lieutenants at a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 19, at headquarters on Danbury Road.

Elevated to captain were Lt. Brian Elliott and Lt. Jim Blanchfield. William Sampson and William Wilson were named lieutenants.

A surprise promotion of sorts came at the beginning of the ceremony when Fire Chief Ron Kanterman and Deputy Chief Mark Amatrudo presented Fr. Reggie Norman of Our Lady of Fatima Church with a fleece jacket from the department and named him an honorary member.

During the last 16 months, the fire department has had a number of celebratory occasions, and each time they call Fr. Reggie “he says ‘I’ll be there for you guys,’” Kanterman said. Norman thanked the chief, saying “it’s really appreciated.”

Congratulating the new officers were Fire Commission Chair Gary Mecozzi and First Selectman Bill Brennan, both of whom called attention to the number of retired firefighters in the audience as well as fire chiefs and commissioners from neighboring towns along with friends and families.

“It shows the great comfort we have in mutual aid and knowing the people that are next door when we need additional help, they’re always there for us as we are for them,” Brennan said, adding, “there’s a close working rapport, we’re not an island unto ourselves.”

He also thanked the fire department for all the help and cooperation he received from the members during his 10 years as first selectman.

Of the new captains, Kanterman noted that Elliott and Blanchfield had been promoted to lieutenants just a few months ago. In doing so, they assumed many captain’s duties due to the vacancies within the department.

“They hit the ground running and most, if not all, of their training and orientation was towards being a shift commander and doing captain’s work in the absence of a captain,” Kanterman said. In what he called an “unprecedented move,” the two, who finished at the top of the promotional list, were promoted to captain after only five months as lieutenant.

“As of today everything has changed for Bill Sampson and Bill Wilson, we call the Bills,” Kanterman said, turning to the new lieutenants. “Although they have always kept an eye on the guy next to them in a fire or emergency, they are now responsible for the safety and well-being of their crew. This puts a new spin on things. The decisions they make in the first five minutes of arrival most likely determine the outcome of the emergency. It is my firm believe that, in fact, it is the person sitting in the right front seat that moves the fire service forward each and every day,” Kanterman said.

Before handing each man his helmet shield, Amatrudo spoke of risks, particularly the risk the men took to “try to make themselves and the department better.”

“They decided to take the time, make the commitment, improve themselves and improve the department at the same time. They made the department and themselves more valuable to the community and yes, that should result in everybody being just a little bit safer.”

Then he spoke to the families in the audience. “The family that came here today out of uniform to see their loved ones … it’s our time and my privilege with a heartfelt thank you to acknowledge the commitment you made so they could do what they have done. … We as a community and a department are much better off for that.”
The honorees

A member of the Wilton department for 11 years, Brian Elliott served as a volunteer firefighter for eight years in Southington. He holds an associate degree in fire technology and a bachelor of science degree. He is a certified EMS instructor and has been trained in rescue work, hazardous materials and firematics.

Jim Blanchfield has eight years of service in Wilton and is a member of the fire and police dive team, a safety officer as well as a fire officer. He has also trained in rescue work, hazardous materials and firematics. He was a volunteer for 14 years in Trumbull.

After a 20-year career as an aerospace field service engineer, William Sampson joined the Wilton Fire Department in 2003. He began his fire service in 1995 in Enfield. He holds certificates for confined space training, cold water rescue, leadership strategies, aerial operations, and rope rescue. He is also an instructor at the Connecticut Fire Academy.

William Wilson is a 10-year veteran of the Wilton department, and served as a volunteer in Trumbull from 1999 to 2007. He holds certificates for course work in terrorism awareness, confined space rescue, pump operator, strategy and tactics, and leadership strategies. In 2009 he received a commendation for “performing life-saving procedures” at the scene of a car accident.

Each of the men studied several months for their promotion exams. According to Kanterman, each received a syllabus and four “good-sized” textbooks to prepare for the test, which was administered by an outside entity. Each took a written exam followed the next day by an oral exam before a board of chief officers from around the state. None of the officers were from Wilton. Questions ranged from tactical to supervisory.

The scores from those tests were combined with an in-house rating from their fellow officers to determine a final score.

Kanterman said these promotions bring the department up to full strength save for one opening in the fire marshal’s office. The former position of fire inspector is being dropped in favor of naming a deputy fire marshal, Kanterman said, and that test will be given in January.