MANSFIELD – Neal Boldrighini had worked construction, for juvenile detention, at a fishing store and delivering furniture but his brother, a lieutenant in the Lowell Fire Department, kept urging him to become a firefighter.
“From the first day I knew this was right. This was what I’m supposed to do,” said Boldrighini who retired this month after 30 years on the job in Mansfield, 12 of those as chief.
“Everything you did meant something,” he said of becoming a firefighter. “You can help people in so many ways.
“Even if it’s something as simple as helping someone when they stumble,” he said. “What other job do you get paid to be a really great guy?”
One of Boldrighini’s first jobs as a firefighter in Mansfield was handling the Student Awareness for Fire Education program. As SAFE officer Boldrighini brought fire safety education to kids in the schools. He made a particular effort to recognize young people who saved a life with the skills they learned through SAFE as part of the state’s Young Heroes program. Students who dialed 911 or remained calm and helpful in an emergency would be recognized in a school assembly.
Mansfield has had 27 such Young Heroes, Boldrighini said with pride. One, Evan Benson, went on to serve in the military and has now joined the Attleboro Fire Department.
Boldrighini said the department has been expanding SAFE to reach out to the town’s growing senior population.
He also worked in fire prevention and investigation before being promoted to chief in 2007, following the retirement of Fire Chief Robert Bellavance.
In the last 12 years, Boldrighini has seen a lot of change and advances. He has been involved development of community paramedicine, where paramedics will provide preventative care as well as emergency response and reorganized the department to create captains positions to increase supervision and communication.
He hired four additional firefighters which help meet his goal to add one person per shift to the force. The positions were funded for the first few years by a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.
Boldrighini was involved in the creation of the new regional dispatch center, currently under construction in Foxborough, which will serve Mansfield, Foxborough, Norton and Easton. He said he expects the center will attract more communities who will want to join.
The chief also has gotten to enjoy a few months in the new $22 million public safety building on Route 106, housing both police and fire departments, which opened late last summer.
“The new building is more professional,” he said. “Though we already work well together it’s nice to have police and firefighters bump into each other in the halls.”
With the new building open, the Plymouth Street station will get needed repairs, he said.
“It was crowded,” he said. “We’d turned some bunk rooms into offices. It was very tight.”
The town is currently seeking proposals from developers for the North Main Street station. The station, built in 1930, was slated to be sold when the new building opened, but was closed ahead of schedule after an engine caught fire inside a garage bay one night in February.
Boldrighini had high praise for the firefighters in the station that night. They couldn’t access their gear due to the blaze, but managed to alert dispatch, move the other vehicles out of the station and begin efforts to quench the flames. Two were later taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and one suffered an electrical burn.
“We could have lost the entire fleet,” he said.
Having a fire in his own station also gave Boldrighini a whole new view of what fire victims go through.
“We have always helped families and businesses displaced by fire,” he said. “Now I know how it feels firsthand. You are so displaced and off kilter. I remember having to account for every Band-Aid lost.”
Looking forward Boldrighini said he sees a lot of changes for the town which mean challenges for the Fire Department.
“Increasing density will put more reliance on public safety including the Department of Public Works and police,” he said. “The department is in good shape equipment wise, but will eventually need more manpower especially if the Transit Oriented District is developed.
The TOD is the area near the downtown train station zoned for mixed used development.
Looking out third floor of the North Main Street fire station he pointed to Jodice building down the street. He noted the ease of running a hose to such a single-story structure when compared to the new four-story development, Station Square, under construction across the street.
“A fourth floor is a lot more effort and work,” he said.
Boldrighini also noted that new apartment buildings going in where there may have been just one or two houses increase need for service because they increase the amount of people living in the same amount of space.
Mansfield also has its own unique challenges such as a train station, two highways and an airport. He recalls responding to 18 to 20 people struck by trains over the years. The Xfinity Center can bring up to 20,000 people to town in a night and the industrial park is one of New England’s largest, he said.
“Mansfield is a very unique mix,” he said
Looking back at the impact of 9/11, Boldrighini said it was similar for everyone – “a lot of questions, a lot of emotions.” He said the attack and the Boston Marathon bombing forced public safety to look at what they did differently.
“We learned it can hit anywhere, anytime,” he said.
A Mansfield resident and Mansfield High graduate, Boldrighini said he has enjoyed being a firefighter in his hometown.
“It’s really nice to be of service to people you know.”
Boldrighini said he has no specific retirement plans. He and his wife, Lynette, who is the town’s assistant Council on Aging director, recently moved to new home in Mansfield, not far from the new public safety building.
“I feel really honored to have been given responsibly for this community for 12 years and to serve it for 30 years,” he said.
“It has been a gift.”