A global pandemic really put into perspective just how essential our essential workers are, from nurses to firefighters and everyone in between. People like Jim Blanchfield, Fire Chief of the Wilton Fire Department, put their lives at risk every day and never falter, even while an unseen enemy continues to make their jobs all the more treacherous.
Jim is a life-long Connecticut resident, having grown up in Enfield and later receiving his undergraduate degree at The University of Connecticut. He went on to earn a law degree in 1996 and later joined the local town fire department, beginning as a volunteer.
Though he’s a firefighter, Jim serves Wilton in more ways than one. He makes it a point to support local businesses and is making his way through Wilton’s independent restaurants to make sure he’s “tried every restaurant in town.” His favorite restaurant varies depending on the cuisine, but his number one recommendation for barbecue is Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Ridgefield. Next on his restaurant hit-list? Bianco Rosso in Wilton!
When he’s not working or eating his way around town, Jim is an avid reader. “I’ve been reading newspapers (and doing the crosswords) my whole life.” He loves to read non-fiction on an array of topics, whether that’s a standard biography or his most recent read, Stanley Tucci’s Taste, a biography about the actor’s life
Jim’s passion for his job developed at an early age, back when the fire department across the street from his childhood home still had an airhorn on top of the building to call firefighters back to the station. “Once we moved to Trumbull – about 20 years ago – I joined the local volunteer fire department, Trumbull Center FD, and the rest is history.”
Jim was promoted to the position of chief in October of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was fortunate to have interim Fire Chief Geoff Herald still working for Wilton when I became the Deputy Chief, which allowed the transition to Chief to go as best it could, given everything going on at that time.”
The biggest change, he says, was going from being in charge of one shift to being responsible for the entire department. This transition was made easier because he already had an established relationship with the other town departments in addition to his own team.
“I use the word “team” a lot when talking about Wilton, and I mean it. Everyone contributes to providing the services we do to the community.” He is adamant that even though he’s in a position of greater responsibility, he is just one of many public servants heralding
The culture of the firehouse isn’t always the casual, relaxed environment Hollywood portrays it to be either. A firefighter’s daily routine consists of ensuring all equipment is operational, on top of further training for the many crises they may encounter at a scene. “Our firefighters are also EMTs and in addition to fire, rescue, and hazmat calls, we respond to all medical emergencies in town.”
As if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, he’s also currently training to run a half marathon this April. “I started running a few years ago, and I am hoping to run a road race in each of Connecticut’s 169 towns at some point – I have a long way to go in that regard!” Vacations are the exception to his training schedule: “I absolutely never [run]!” His ideal destination spots are those that offer warmer climates: “The further South the better.”
Jim’s credentials include teaching at the Connecticut Fire Academy and the Fairfield Regional Fire School, in addition to being a Hazardous Material Technician and Incident Safety Officer. The department also conducts public education events, including fire safety demonstrations for young kids. Every one of us remembers fire safety day fondly in elementary school when the fire truck pulled up, and everyone clamored for a chance to sit in it; Jim’s team continues to inspire kids to this day.
At the end of the day, essential workers are regular people who have chosen to carry a heavy burden for the well being of their communities. To Jim, and all of our town’s essential workers, thank you. •