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20-year Yantic fire Chief Frank Blanchard retires; successor was his predecessor

Norwich — Yantic Fire Engine Co.’s 20-year veteran Chief Frank Blanchard retired this week, but the department did not lose any experience or tenure when members elected his successor.

Bill Eyberse, a 45-year member of the department, former chief and current director of the Eastern Connecticut Fire School in Willimantic, was elected as Blanchard’s successor during the fire company’s annual meeting April 11. Blanchard was the longest serving chief in the 174-year-old volunteer department.

Eyberse, 60, a retired maintenance planner for the state Department of Transportation, “grew up at the firehouse.” His uncles, Ron Stolz and Walter Kane, were chiefs, and his father, Ralph Lodyko, was an assistant chief. Eyberse served as chief briefly from 1998 to 2000, prior to Blanchard’s election.

“It’s tough finding someone who wants to take the position over,” Eyberse said. “Being retired gives me the time. And the fire service has kind of been my avocation. I’m a certified fire marshal. I have degrees in fire science and administration. I’ve been a state certified instructor since 1985, and I’ve been running the Eastern Connecticut Fire School for the past 3½ years.”

Eyberse said he will meet Sunday with his fellow Yantic officers, all of whom were reelected at the annual meeting, and hopes to meet soon with the city’s five other fire chiefs and with city police Chief Patrick Daley.

The Yantic membership gave Blanchard a standing ovation last Sunday as he “handed the torch” to Eyberse. A 30-year member of the Yantic volunteer department, Blanchard said he will remain a Yantic firefighter but now will have time to focus on his business and family.

Blanchard is the owner of Prime Electric, a commercial and industrial electrical firm based in the Norwich business park with customers throughout the state. A second division in the company specializes in site work and underground utilities.

He said he also wants to pursue other business interests.

“For 20 years, I’ve had two full-time jobs,” Blanchard said, “working with city officials, working with the membership, handling an emergency. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. ... After 30 years, I think I’ve done my part. I’m ready to move on. I’ve loved the 20 years I put in as chief, the people I worked with. There’s a tremendous talent in the volunteer fire service, in Yantic and the other departments.”

Over the years, Blanchard has been a leader in championing the city’s five volunteer departments against any efforts to spread the central city paid fire district tax into the volunteer districts. The city recently commissioned an independent fire services study to better integrate the two systems. As that work gets started, Blanchard said he has no interest in running for political office.

Eyberse thanked Blanchard for his service as chief and credited him for the growth and stability of the historical fire department, founded in 1847.

Eyberse said he has read the new 194-page fire study twice and acknowledged the departments “have some challenges” to overcome. The study listed replacing the antiquated fire radio, communications and dispatch systems as a critical top priority. City and fire officials have started addressing the problem, testing radios for dead zones and seeking cost estimates for a replacement system. The proposed city budget includes $1 million in the capital improvements budget for the system.

“Technology and the hazards of fire companies keep changing,” Eyberse said. “I never would have thought I’d be jumping off a firetruck with an iPad under my arm.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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