Lt. William Cross appointed Captain; Firefighter Donald Blandini named lieutenant
The Saugus Fire Department had planned a simple swearing-in ceremony at the Central Station sometime today for the promotions of two of its veteran members:
- Lt. William E. Cross III, who is in his 28th year, has been appointed captain, filling the vacancy left by last month’s retirement of Capt. James Hughes.
- Firefighter Donald “D.J.” Blandini, who is in his 10th year with the department, becomes a lieutenant, filling the vacancy left by Cross’ promotion.
“These are two veteran members of the department that I am extremely proud of,” Saugus Fire Chief Michael C. Newbury said in an interview this week.
“You just don’t end up being a lieutenant and captain. It’s an individual challenge. And for both men, it has taken a huge commitment, a lot of training and ongoing education. And for their families, it’s also a big sacrifice. So, I’m proud of their families, too,” Newbury said.
“Bill is a Saugus guy and a family man and has had a career already. He’s seen it all in 28 years with the department. He comes from a firefighting family. His father is a retired captain from Chelsea and his son, Patrick, became a Saugus firefighter two years ago,” the chief said. “Donald, another Saugus guy, is a family man with two children and is going into his 10th year with the Fire Department. He has a young family, and it took a lot of effort on his part to put in for this job. Just like Bill, he’s been educating himself on new skills. He’s got an associate’s degree in fire science from North Shore Community College and he’s also working on his bachelor’s degree.”
Cross will work out of the Central Fire Station on Hamilton Street. Blandini will also be based out of the Central Fire Station, while working with Group 1, according to Chief Newbury.
The Saugus Fire Department currently employs 56 firefighters and superior officers. The department also has Michele Wendell, who works full-time as the department’s administrative assistant.
Fire officials are currently reviewing applications for four firefighter positions the department plans to fill later this year.
Accolades to Capt. Hughes
Cross is well-prepared to take over the captain’s position created when Capt. Hughes retired last month. But some fire officials lament the loss of Hughes, who worked as a firefighter for more than 35 years – about three decades for the Saugus Fire Department.
“Jim was probably the best fire official I worked for and worked with,” Deputy Fire Chief Thomas D’Eon, Jr. said.
“He was extremely conscientious and loved the job. It’s a loss for us. But you’ve got to be glad to see him retire to spend more time with his family. Jim was just a great, all-around guy to talk to. We always had good conversations,” D’Eon said. “Jim was a progressive guy who always had and offered solutions to families. He was very professional and well-organized. There aren’t enough great things you can say about Jim Hughes.”
Hughes joined the Melrose Fire Department in October 1986 and went to work for the Saugus Fire Department in July of 1992. He was promoted to lieutenant in October 1996 and Captain in July 2017. He retired on Jan. 8.
Hughes, a Melrose native, is a 1982 graduate of Melrose High School. He worked for 30 of his 35 years-plus in firefighting for the Town of Saugus. He had been a fire officer for 27 years – working in fire prevention for more than 12 years.
Hughes was among several dozen firefighters from fire departments across the state who were honored in 2012 at the state’s 23rd Annual “Firefighter of the Year” Awards Ceremony. He was cited for showing great courage and risking his life in a December 2011 incident in which he dove into the Saugus River in an attempt with other firefighters to save a woman from a submerged car that had crashed through the guardrail at the Fox Hill Bridge. He helped to free the unconscious woman from the car. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital. But Hughes, who wound up being treated in the hospital for hypothermia and an injured foot, was praised by then-Gov. Deval Patrick for an act of valor.
“Billy Cross is a great firefighter”
Capt. Hughes leaves big shoes to fill in the hierarchy of the Saugus Fire Department. But D’Eon has great expectations for Cross, whom he calls “a natural leader.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Billy Cross often over the course of my career, and I can tell you that he is a great firefighter,” D’Eon said in an interview this week. “He’s another Medal of Valor winner and has a lot to offer in his new position. Billy brings a ton of street experience in here. I have all of the confidence he’s going to excel at this as he has everyplace else he has served in the department.”
Cross has been a member of the Saugus Fire Department since August of 1994. He was promoted to the lieutenant’s position in February 2018.
Cross, 54, has been married to his wife, Tracy, for nearly 28 years. They have three sons together: Andrew, 26; Patrick, 24; and Joseph, 21. Tracy Cross, a 1988 Saugus High School graduate, is a teacher’s aide in Chelsea Public Schools.
Cross has been a Saugus resident since moving from Chelsea to town with his family when he was five years old. He is the longtime president of Saugus Firefighters Union Local #1003. He received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Suffolk University while minoring in English. He is a former Saugus Town Meeting member and has served as chair of the Saugus Retirement Board since 1997. Cross has served as a mentor for two decades at Saugus High School’s annual Shadow Day. He is a 1985 graduate of Saugus High School. He played all four years on the Saugus High School basketball team and was a captain in his senior season.
Cross’ father, William E. Cross, Jr., is a retired Chelsea Fire Department captain who served with that city’s fire service for 35 years. Cross’ son, Patrick, has been a Saugus firefighter since March of 2020, making it three generations of his family who have been firefighters.
“DJ is a rising star”
Deputy Fire Chief D’Eon also expressed high expectations for the department’s new lieutenant, Blandini. “I think DJ is a rising star in the organization,” D’Eon said. “He’s a very conscientious, solid guy and family man who really cares about Saugus. He’s married with two children. And he’s a hometown guy.”
Blandini joined the Saugus Fire Department in November 2012. He is a 2005 graduate of Saugus High School who enlisted in the U.S. Army right after graduation. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and eventually rose to the rank of E-4 corporal over his four-year tenure.
Blandini was one of three Saugus firefighters who was trapped in a three-alarm house fire on Essex Street in January of 2016. He overheard his lieutenant calling a Mayday as he was assisted out of the burning building. After being rescued, he remained on the scene to help in fighting the fire.