Wilton saw interim chief Ronald Kanterman get sworn in as the Chief of the Fire Department on Friday, Oct. 23. What those in attendance saw was a clear display of brotherhood, leadership and generosity, especially from the man who was officially receiving the title of ‘Chief’.
The fire trucks were moved out of the department garage bays to make room for a crowd of about 70 people, including town officials, Kanterman’s family, local clergy and members of the uniformed services, including not only Wilton firefighters, EMT, ambulance corps and police officers, but several out-of-town fire chiefs with whom Kanterman served during previous positions. Chiefs from his former posts in NJ, NY and Mohegan Sun in CT were on hand, as were fire chiefs from surrounding towns like New Canaan, Norwalk and more.
There was tradition⎯Kanterman was led into the room by the three members of the fire commission and a bagpipe player (Wilton Fire Department’s own Ralph Nathanson, see video)⎯and affectionate humor, especially in the guise of deputy chief Mark Amatrudo, who delivered introductory remarks that both playfully ribbed the boss and paid tribute to his leadership.
And then there was the chief himself, who, after getting sworn in by town clerk Lori Kaback, thanked his wife, Fran, saying she was “the best girl a guy could have wished for.” Pulling out a surprise bouquet of flowers for her from the cab of the fire truck behind him, he said, “You never know what you’ll find in a fire truck.” The chief then delivered his own remarks that were both humorous and reflective of the kind of man he is.
He thanked Father Reggie Norman from Our Lady of Fatima Church for giving the opening benediction. Then, acknowledging Rabbi Rachel Bearman, from Temple B’nai Chaim sitting next to Father Reggie, Kanterman welcomed the Rabbi and said, “Being of the Jewish faith, I’m thinking of my grandfather, who’s looking down and thinking, ‘What are these bagpipes?'”
He concluded his speech by asking all the people who serve in uniform, whether they were wearing uniforms that morning or not, to join him at the front for a picture, to make sure that everyone who serves was acknowledge with him. It seemed to be his way of sharing the spotlight and acknowledging that one person alone could never be responsible for having the fortitude to serve and protect without the strength of the others who stand alongside him.
When we asked the chief for permission to reprint his remarks, it was because we were taken with the stories he told in his speech about his department and the men who serve as “Wilton’s Bravest.” We wanted to make sure that the anecdotes he told were relayed to the Wilton residents this department serves, to hear the GOOD that is embodied in the firefighters of this town. Kanterman said he’d send them over to GMW, with the caveat that we make this about “his guys.”
Chief Kanterman, while that was always completely our intent, it’s hard not to also acknowledge that the man who leads these brave men is something best described by a yiddish word we’re sure his grandfather was also thinking: that Chief Ron Kanterman is a mensch, which means ‘man of character.’ You say you’re humbled to have been selected as Wilton’s chief. Let GMW.com speak for Wilton: We’re lucky to have you.
(Photos and video follow the chief’s remarks, at the bottom.)
Remarks reprinted here with permission:
First and foremost I’d like to thank the Board of Fire Commissioners for asking me to stay on after my one year interim assignment and having the faith and trust in me to run the fire department for the next few years.
I’d also like to thank the Board of Selectmen for endorsing the Commission’s selection and finalizing my contract to stay on.
Please help me thank deputy chief Mark Amatrudo, administrator Cathy Horn and the department members at large for helping to set up and take care of the logistics for today’s event. I appreciate all of your hard work to make this happen. To quote the famous Yogi Berra, “I’d like to thank all those who made this day necessary.”
Throughout my career, I’ve had the honor and privilege to speak at numerous events and occasions around the country, like lecturing at seminars and delivering key note speeches at fire academy graduations. Upon returning home my wife would ask how it went and I’d give her a few minute recap on the trip. Inevitably she’d ask, “did you mention your lovely wife?” and we’d have a good laugh. We‘ll honey today is your day. My lovely wife is in fact here. Her name is Fran and she’s been at my side for 36 years. I’m thinking not many women would have done that! She is my rock, my sounding board, my advisor, my shrink and the best girl a guy could have wished for and she is a mother for all seasons. Thank you for all you’ve done to support me and my career and for your future support and counsel.
Our daughter Melissa lives in Pennsylvania west of Philly and was not able to be here today but we’ll be celebrating soon. Also not here is my sister Shelley who lives in Albuquerque and was unable to make the trip. I simply told her she’ll make it up to me. Also here today are Fran’s sister Maryann and her husband John who has ties to the New York City Fire Department. John’s brother works as a LT and had an uncle who worked as a fireman in Ladder 115 in Long Island City Queens, many years ago. Uncle Greg was decorated for heroism at one of the city’s largest industrial fires in its history. Thanks to all of you for being here today and being a great extended family to me.
My original intent was to work one year as the interim chief here in Wilton and then see what was what. In short order, I knew this was a special place and a special fire department to be with. The town employees and the people who live here have been welcoming and accommodating. I asked the firefighters upon my arrival in June of 2014, “Do the people in town love you?” They said, “Yes” and I asked, “How do you know?” They said, “Be patient and wait until December.” Around the 10th, the parade of cars started coming to the firehouse. Cakes, cookies, brownies, platters and it kept up until just after New Years. I thought to myself, they either love us or they’re trying to kill us through diabetes and high blood pressure. It merely pushed the guys in to the gym a bit more than they already were going.
I’d like to ask all members of the Wilton FD to join me up here.
We accomplished an awful lot in 15 months. Four promotional exams, a new set of SOP’s, a renewed relationship with the public and private schools and, trust me, the list goes on. The credit however goes to the men you see up here and those who couldn’t make it today who wear the same shoulder patch. The hard work, determination and dedication they have for the job and the people they serve is second to none. They, we, simply love what we do.
Let me tell you why I was hoping to stay. Each year at Christmas time, the members under their union leadership purchase and serve lunch at one of the local seniors’ home. I stopped in last year to take a look around. The faces of the octogenarians and their true appreciation for the firefighters serving them lunch was quite a sight. They’ve been doing this for over 30 years. It’s pretty special. They join forces with Marine Corps Reserve each year and make fire headquarters a “Toys for Tots” drop off point. They collect and average 1,200 toys every year for those kids whose house Santa skips over. Special. Mrs. Jones called 9-1-1 because her new kitty got behind the baseboard molding during a kitchen renovation. The guys simply stopped by, took the molding off, recovered kitty and put the baseboard back. Special.
And then we do something called taking care of our own. You’ve heard of the brotherhood of the fire service. The men in the Wilton fire department epitomize the brotherhood each and every day. Last fall, just a year ago a Bridgeport fire LT who lives here in town was ill with cancer and taking treatments. We’re happy to report he’s back to work. At that time he was pretty incapacitated. The guys got together on their day off, went to his house and did a fall yard cleaning. Leaves, gutters, the whole package. A neighbor observed this and wrote an article for the local paper. The guys didn’t think it was anything extraordinary. It’s who they are. It’s what they do.
And then we recently, in August, hired four new guys. During week four of T&O, one of the new guys’ 6-month-old got gravely ill. After a few meetings between myself and the union leadership and then Human Resources, we found a way to keep this young man on the payroll because, as new employee he had no time in the bank. The union members in the firehouse stepped up said, “We will keep him and his family whole. We will donate our own sick time. We have his back, so he can take care of his wife and son.”
Why the hell wouldn’t I want to be here? Wouldn’t you? These are only a few of the reasons that I am honored and humbled to have been selected as Wilton’s next permanent fire chief. Thank you all for your support over the years and for contributing to my success. You have all had a part in that.
Thanks to all of you for coming and sharing in this special day with my family and me.