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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Len Stanhope, right, talks with new Litchfield Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl, along with his daughter Hannah and wife, Lisa, during a meet-and-greet Monday at Town Hall.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Selectman Pat Jewett, left, talks with new Litchfield Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl and his family during a meet-and-greet Monday evening at Town Hall. His wife, Lisa, is at center.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Len Stanhope, right, talks with new Litchfield Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl during a meet and greet Monday evening at the town hall.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Len Stanhope, right, talks with new Litchfield Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl, along with his daughter, Hannah, and wife, Lisa during a meet and greet Monday evening at the town hall.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Selectman Pat Jewett, left, talks with new Litchfield Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl and his family during a meet and greet Monday evening at the town hall. Shown is his wife, Lisa.
Sunday, April 1, 2012

Top of the ladder for Fraitzl

LITCHFIELD – During a routine physical exam in 2009, lifelong firefighter Frank Fraitzl received a diagnosis he never expected to hear.

The doctor, who Fraitzl never met until that exam, shocked the Bedford native when he told him the prosthetic leg he’d worn his entire life made him unfit for duty as a firefighter.

More bewildered than irritated, Fraitzl contacted the National Fire Protection Association – a premier fire safety, prevention, training, education and advocacy agency that has served the fire service worldwide for more than a century. At the time, it happened to be organizing a series of task forces under its Technical Committee on Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health to deal with issues such as Fraitzl’s.

“My argument was, technology had become so advanced, even three or four years ago, that people with prosthetics were doing just about everything anyone else could do,” Fraitzl said.

“Today, we have many more cases of military veterans fitted for prosthetics going back” to active duty after recovering from injuries, he said. “For me, having a prosthetic leg has never gotten in the way of fighting fires.”

The doctor’s ruling turned out to be a mere footnote in Fraitzl’s 28-year career, which has spanned four local departments from the ranks of private to chief, and continues as the part-time chief of the Litchfield Fire Department.

This isn’t Fraitzl’s first stint in Litchfield.

Venerable town Selectman Pat Jewett, re-elected this year after a one-term absence, was on the board in 1986 when Fraitzl, then a single man in his early 20s, was hired as one of the town’s first two full-time firefighters.

“It’s great to see Frank back again,” Jewett said at the town’s reception welcoming Fraitzl as the new chief on Monday. “I remember we were very happy to be able to put two full-timers on the department, and that Frank was one of them.”

Town Manager Jason Hoch said selectmen, who handled the interview process, were impressed with Fraitzl’s credentials as a firefighter and leader.

Selecting a fire chief, Hoch said, “is mostly about management style, demeanor and the individual’s approach to the job. We had several strong candidates, and in the end, Frank stood out.”

Of the 20 or so applicants, Hoch said, selectmen looked hard at about 10.

Several of those were “people who were known to us in some fashion,” he said.

The field was narrowed further, and Fraitzl emerged as the favorite.

That Fraitzl was appointed to the post makes him a pioneer, of sorts, in the tall, skinny town whose population has swelled past the 8,500 mark, more than double what it was when he was a firefighter in 1986.

Until now, voters elected the fire chief, who served a three-year term. Voters approved the change in 2011, with the understanding it would take effect this year.

Hoch said Tom Schofield, Fraitzl’s predecessor of more than a decade, wasn’t among the 20 or so applicants for the job. Schofield’s term ended when Fraitzl assumed office on March 14, the morning after Town Meeting.

Among the visitors at the reception was former Litchfield Fire Chief Brent Lemire, currently the town manager of Northwood and under whose watch Fraitzl came onboard in ’86.

As it turned out, Fraitzl didn’t stay in Litchfield all that long, but it wasn’t because he didn’t like it. Also a call man in his native Bedford at the time, Fraitzl grabbed an opportunity to serve his hometown department when it began adding full-time personnel.

“You could say I went back home,” he said. “They were doing the 10-14s” – a schedule of two 10-hour days, one day off, two 14-hour nights, four days off – “back then, great hours for a young kid like me.”

Fraitzl eventually became a lieutenant, and after 14 years in Bedford, moved to the fire prevention sector, becoming fire marshal for the Merrimack Fire Department. He later became its training officer, then rose to deputy chief.

Though he was in line for the top job when Chief William Pepler retired, Fraitzl declined.

“Merrimack requires its fire chief and some other department heads to live in town, and I didn’t want to move my family out of Bedford or have my daughters switch schools at that point,” he said.

Hannah, a junior at Bedford High School, accompanied her father to Monday’s event. Her older sister, Heidi, is in college.

Two years later, Fraitzl did become a fire chief when he was named to lead the Milford department in 2007. Unlike Merrimack, Milford has no residency requirement. He retired from Milford last summer.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.