Jim Blanchfield may have held the title of Wilton Fire Chief for only six days so far, but he’s far from the “new guy” around the station. He’s had 14 years of history as a Wilton firefighter, and before that, he was a volunteer with the Trumbull Fire Department. But his love of the fire service might have roots from an even earlier part of his life.

“I can’t say officially, but I literally grew up directly across the street from a firehouse, the Crescent Lake Fire District–two streets, one fire truck, and the siren on the roof. So that’s probably where it started,” he said, adding that there hasn’t ever been a member of his family in the fire or police service until he chose it as a career.

Blanchfield is committed to the profession in many ways. Not only did he rise in the ranks to become chief, but he also teaches at the Connecticut Fire Academy and the Fairfield Regional Fire School.

“I just love this profession. We get to deal with different problems every single day. You don’t know what’s coming and you get to deal with the public in manners of emergency and non-emergency. There’s a lot of satisfaction in this career. Everybody says it in the profession they’re in, but I truly do believe this is absolutely the best one.”

Blanchfield has had other work experience to which he can compare the fire service–he was a practicing attorney for several years before prioritizing rising through Wilton’s fire department leadership. That’s another added benefit he brings to the post.

“I’m able to look at issues that pop up and see issues in advance and be able to head certain things off. There’s also a regulatory aspect of the fire service and being able to wade through the regulations and contracts, so that background certainly helps in that regard,” he said.

“I have a certain skill set, which crossed well with what a chief and a deputy have to do. But when I became a Lieutenant and then captain, I did enjoy driving the fire trucks. Now that I’m in the front office, I do miss being on the trucks too, but, I bring a lot of value relative to what we can do in the fire department going forward,” Blanchfield said.

The other assets Blanchfield says he brings are critical for any manager of a large department, let alone a department on which the lives of the people who work for it and of those they serve depend. Those things include being able to manage many projects simultaneously, communicate well, and maintain good working relationships with other town departments.

He’s also the first chief in years to be promoted to the post from within the Wilton Department–something Blanchfield said is an important plus.

“Every department has things that they can do better at, and there’s things that they do well. I know the individuals in this department as well as others, and I know where we can improve. I work with our fire commission monthly, and they expect to be kept up to speed on what’s going on in the department. I know what the concerns are of the officers and the firefighters here and I’m able to relay them in an intelligent way–and it doesn’t take me a year to get up to speed,” he said, adding that it also helps, given that the post of deputy chief needs to be filled.

The whiteboard he keeps in his office reflects a sort of “to-do” list of things Blanchfield wants to focus on. It’s something he started as acting deputy and will continue now that he’s in charge.

“There are certain things we need to talk about–apparatus and facilities. The town has looked at both facilities and what they need and what they don’t need. Upgrades need to be had, and we need to come up with a longterm plan to meet those needs. If you don’t plan long term, you’ll end up getting caught short and having to do a lot more work. So one of my goals is to put together better longterm plans for both stations, any facilities that we have,” he explained.

“The second is our apparatus. Our mechanic, Ricky Petrizzi, is very good at what he does. I’m working with Ricky on putting together a longterm apparatus replacement plan that keeps us where we need to be relative to response, but at the same time, not overspending and keeping the budget in mind,” Blanchfield continued. “Fire apparatus aren’t cheap. And one of the items that’s coming up soon is our ladder truck, it’s been here 16 years.”

How the department and the town responds to that need will be critical, he explained, as he looks much further down the road. That’s because he knows as the town changes–with new development and changes in zoning–there’s likely to be taller buildings and the increasing reliance on a piece of apparatus that can respond if needed.

Other areas on his agenda include revisiting mutual aid agreements we have with surrounding towns as well as creating a longterm strategic plan for the department, with lots of ongoing training, especially as the types of calls the department responds to are ever-evolving.

“It’s a real challenge to meet the expectations of today’s fire service,” he said. “What the fire department is expected to do now has changed tremendously. Our department responds to fire alarms, emergency medical calls, rescue calls–whether it’s a trench, a car, a rope rescue–we respond to hazardous material incidents. We can’t respond to all those incidents unless we train annually on those,” he explained.

One other new area, he said, is active aggressor incidents. “One of my priorities is making sure that in one of those events, if it were to ever happen, that the fire department is ready to respond,” Blanchfield said, adding that it’s something his department actively cross-trains on with Wilton Police. “Police and fire, I think, have a very good relationship in this town.”

Blanchfield wants Wilton residents to know is that they get a tremendous return on their investment into the fire department.

“We operate lean here relative to certain standards. What they get is a committed firefighting force, and guaranteed response. Our response times are very good. And with our mutual aid packages, when it’s an emergency that goes beyond what our six [firefighters on-shift] can handle, Norwalk, Weston, Westport, New Canaan, depending on where the alarm is in town, they are also on that first alarm assignment. We also have a marshal and a deputy marshal responsible for inspecting almost all commercial buildings on an annual or semiannual schedule. That’s an incredible amount of work to do in addition to plan review and temporary permit review. [Residents] get a lot of value relative to the size of our marshals’ division as well,” Blanchfield said.

Knowing the department as well as he does for as long as he has lets him hit the ground running. But it also makes Blanchfield exceedingly proud of the department he now leads.

“I want the people of Wilton to know that no matter what, regardless of who is in the front office here, the firefighters in Wilton will respond to their emergencies 24/7, 365 days, and they will do it quickly and they will do it professionally. That’s always been the charge of this department. Being promoted to the chief’s position, I think I can bring value to those responses and make our firefighters even better. We are a asset to this town. We are an asset to our neighbors. And I’d like to be a part of that for as long as the town will let me.”