PROSPECT — Robert Chatfield has had many titles over the years: mayor, fire chief, Air Force Serviceman. This year he will be able to add hall of famer to that list.
Chatfield, along with 10 other firefighters in the state, will be inducted into the Connecticut State Firefighters Association Hall of Fame in April. Two of the firefighters will be inducted posthumously.
According to a release from the CSFA, the purpose of the hall of fame is to “recognize a present or former member(s) of an organized fire department who has served both his/her department, county and/or state association(s) above and beyond normal expectation over an extended period of time. They shall have demonstrated leadership and have shown themselves to be a motivating force for the betterment of the fire service throughout Connecticut and the United States.”
Chatfield explained that when he received the letter he became very emotional. For him it was one of the defining moments in his life, ranking just below getting married, the birth of his daughter, and birth of his grandchild.
Chatfield began his career with the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department in October of 1965 after returning home from the Air Force.
Chatfield was not the only firefighter in his family; his father had been a fire chief in the early 1960s.
“I tried my whole career to follow in his footsteps,” Chatfield said.
Chatfield worked his way up to assistant chief — a position he served in for 30 years.
Chatfield eventually became Prospect’s fire chief. He held the position for eight years, until 2008, when then Assistant Chief Mart Lautenschlager took over the position.
It was Lautenschlager who nominated Chatfield for the hall of fame.
“To me it was a no-brainer that he needed to be recognized. I am just so happy. This man is so well deserving of this,” Lautenschlager said.
Lautenschlager worked with Chatfield at the fire department for many years, so he knew how much induction into the hall of fame would mean to him.
“When I first joined the fire department I learned a lot from him. I am just so impressed with Bob and his dedication. It’s his whole heart and soul,” Lautenschlager said.
During his career with the fire department, Chatfield received many honors and accolades, including two gubernatorial appointments. He was first appointed to the State Fire Commission and later appointed to Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact.
The NFFPC is made up of seven states, four Canadian provinces and the New England Nation Forests. It was founded in 1949 in response to large fires throughout New England and eastern Canada. Chatfield has been a member of the NFFPC for 14 years.
Over his 47 years with the department, Chatfield has seen many changes in firefighting.
Since he joined the fire department, both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Agency were founded. With them, he said, came standards in training, equipment, and fire trucks.
Chatfield remembered a time when firefighters were referred to as “smoke eaters,” due to the fact that would rush into a burning building with no protective gear.
Chatfield explained that all the changes have helped protect the health and safety of the firefighters.
Even now, after he has stepped down as chief, the fire department remains a part of Chatfield’s life. He currently serves the department as the day commander.
“He has well over 40 years in the fire department and to this day he is still so dedicated. … He still gets up at 2 a.m. to go out on calls,” Lautenschlager said.
Chatfield will be inducted in the Hall of Fame during the CSFA’s annual dinner on April 11 at the Aqua Turf in Southington. For more information, call the CSFA office at (860) 423-5799.