Gregarious by nature, UConn Fire Chief William Perez isn’t one to send a friend’s call to voicemail if he can help it.
So when he saw a fellow Connecticut fire chief’s number pop up on his phone one day in January, he answered it even though he was in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, waiting for his flight home after vacation.
“He says to me, ‘Hey, Chief, congratulations!’ and I’m assuming he’s talking about something from a few months earlier. But then as we’re talking, he realizes I don’t even know what he’s congratulating me for,” Perez says with a laugh in his office recently in UConn University Safety’s headquarters.
He was in for a surprise: Waiting at home in his mailbox was a letter from the Connecticut State Firefighters Association, informing him that he had been selected as a Class of 2023 inductee into the Connecticut Firefighters Hall of Fame.
Perez was selected in recognition of his nearly 40-year career in emergency and fire service in Connecticut, including as a paramedic, front-line firefighter, and administrator while also teaching and serving on multiple commissions and boards.
He is among the few chiefs who have been named to the Hall of Fame while still working in the field; the majority have retired before receiving the honor or have been recognized posthumously. Perez is also believed to be one of few, and perhaps the first, of Hispanic heritage.
“I was honestly shocked, and so unbelievably honored,” Perez, 58, says of being selected. “The fact that someone even thought to nominate me is just amazing on its own. I never would have dreamed of this, and I’m so grateful.”
Perez began his career in emergency services in 1987 as an EMT (emergency medical technician) in Bridgeport, advancing to become a paramedic, then field supervisor, and eventually the operations supervisor.
He joined the East Hartford Fire Department in 1993 as a firefighter/paramedic and moved up there over the years as well, retiring in 2018 as assistant fire chief after 25 years of service, including a period as acting fire chief.
He joined UConn that year as its fire chief, saying his new public safety colleagues and throughout the University made the transition easy with their welcoming approach and the department’s long record of success.
“I love the energy of working on campus, and the teamwork and professionalism displayed here is remarkable,” Perez says.
Perez has been teaching paramedic and fire service programs in Connecticut for almost 30 years and is also an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy in Maryland, from which he holds an Executive Fire Officer designation.
He’s an example of the adage that good things come in threes: In addition to the Hall of Fame honor, Perez, recently received the 2022 Connecticut Fire Department Instructors Association’s “Richard Platt Sylvia Instructor of the Year” award. A few months later, Gov. Ned Lamont appointed him to the Connecticut Commission on Fire Prevention and Control.
In addition to being active in the other groups, Perez is involved in the Capitol Region Fire Chiefs Association, Capitol Region Emergency Planning Committee, Capitol Region Hazardous Materials Response Team, and North Central Emergency Medical Services Board of Directors.
He has also served on advisory committees for the paramedic program at Capital Community College, where he is an instructor, and emergency management and homeland security programs of Post University and Goodwin College.
Perez, who grew up in Bridgeport, also is a U.S. Navy veteran who served as a hospital corpsman and performed active duty during Operations Iraqi Freedom, Noble Eagle, and Enduring Freedom.
When not working, Perez and his wife, Manchester Fire Lt. Moira Milton Perez, often visit her family’s 24-square-mile Milton Ranch in Roundup, Montana, where Perez helps tend to their 1,000 organic free-range black angus cattle and where they plan to eventually retire.
He holds his associate degree in paramedic sciences from Capital Community College; a bachelor’s of science from Charter Oak State College; a master’s in public administration from Anna Maria College; and a doctorate in education from University of Hartford.