The chiefs of police and fire department in Hanover, Massachusetts, have lived practically parallel lives. After 43 years serving the same community, both are retiring simultaneously as 2021 winds to a close.
The two men, Walter L. Sweeney of Hanover Police Department and Fire Chief Jeff Blanchard, born just four days apart, were friends in middle school. As teenagers, both started their careers as call firefighters—Sweeny in 1977 and Blanchard in 1978—before splitting off into their respective departments.
The officers remained friends over their careers. After having kids, their families went on trips together, though duty often called on the radio; and when one had to leave a gathering, the other often had to also excuse himself.
Sweeney went from being a call firefighter to an emergency communications dispatcher in 1978, and became a police officer in 1982.
After joining the police force full time in 1982, he worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, before advancing to the rank of sergeant in 1995, where he supervised detectives and accounted for federal grants. He was made lieutenant (second in command in the department) in 1997, and was in 2008 sworn in as the town’s chief of police.
Some of his achievements include instituting school resource officers in Hanover schools in 2015, and focusing on substance abuse in the community, which involved rolling out Narcan (an overdose reversal drug) for officers in the department.
He told the Patriot Ledger that his work required family support and dedication which often meant less time spent with loved ones. He now looks forward to making up for lost time.
“That support, it was important to my being able to totally commit to the job,” Sweeney said. “In retirement, I plan to give back more to my family.”
Meanwhile, Blanchard became a part-time firefighter after two years on call and joined the department full time in 1985. He’s since held the rank of lieutenant, moved up to deputy chief in 2006, before being promoted to chief in 2011—assuming the same role once held by his older brother and father before him.
Blanchard grew up around the sights and sounds of the profession.
“I grew up listening to the fire radio,” he told the news outlet. “We’d be in the car and there would be a fire so we would go to it. I grew up in the atmosphere.”
Over the years, he’s seen the fire department through dramatic changes as it transitioned into an emergency medical service—in addition to fighting fires as a staple.
“When I joined, there was one ambulance offering basic life support and if anybody needed anything, it wasn’t happening until we got to the emergency room,” he said. Today, Hanover firefighters are also essentially paramedics and hazardous materials specialists.
Both chiefs have seen the town through numerous challenges and disasters, such as hurricanes and nor’easters as well as CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Virus response.
On Nov. 18, the town saw Blanchard off into retirement at the John Curtis Free Library. Sweeney will celebrate hanging up his badge on Dec. 16, 2021.
Both men are looking forward to the leisure civilian life will afford them.
Sweeney shared, “We’ll be able to get together, to eat, and not worry about who has to be close to town. We won’t be …” To which Blanchard interjected, “… interrupted, when we go with our wives to dinner, because we’ve never been able to have a complete night out.”