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PEPPERELL — Newly-promoted fire captain and 21-year veteran firefighter Milton Blood was just another member of the dinner crowd at the Pepperell Fire Department’s annual dinner and awards ceremony when he heard Deputy Chief Peter Shattuck telling the assemblage he had recently been promoted to Shattuck’s former job.

Then he heard the deputy chief say he had been named Pepperell’s Firefighter of the Year for 2007.

“I was shocked. I had no idea,” the 44-year-old Blood said.

In making the announcement, Shattuck told how he and Blood had once been lost in the smoke and darkness on the second floor of a house whose first floor was in flames. They had dropped their light stick as they felt their way in but they were now lost, each knowing they were walking above fire and probably wouldn’t make it out.

The fact that they found themselves walking inside a bath tub before finding an exit was meant by Shattuck to be humorous. But as combat veterans learn, tough situations reveal the measure of a man.

“We try to pick a guy who does more each year, gets a little better,” Shattuck said. “It was tough this year because a lot of guys give a lot to calls and their people. I am proud of this (one) because he took my place.”

Shattuck said, “Milty has and is still responsible for saving lives and property. He kicked (rear end) at (the) Conway (Chevrolet/Buick) fire and came into his own as a captain at the Hollis and Elliott street fire showed his true colors, and at the accident when Jim (Taplin) saved a life.

“He has taken over Engine Company One and done an exceptional job,” Shattuck said. “Milty, you’re a firefighter’s firefighter. Congratulations you’ve earned this award.”

Blood, a bachelor, started a small construction business five years ago with a six-wheel dump truck, a backhoe and an excavator. His grandfather had operated Pepperell Trucking, an express delivery company, in the 1940s and later turned to paving work.

Hobbies include riding his two Harley-Davidson’s, driving his Chevrolet-powered Sting Ray ski boat, and deer hunting with his uncle, VFW Senior Vice Commander Jack Pillsbury, on land owned by former fire chief Harold “Rabbit” Pillsbury Jr. in Virginia.

“The biggest influence on my life is my mother, Martha Spaulding,” Blood said. “I firmly believe she is the best person on this planet a career nurse and one of the most caring people I know. I remember as a youngster wanting to be like her.”

Blood’s stepfather is retired highway surveyor Kim Spaulding, whom he credits as being “a great influence on me when I was young.”

There are a lot of Blood families in the area but they are not all related. Milton’s closest relative is the “Mason Street Bloods” and his family is from Mt. Lebanon Street.

His great-grandfather, Andrew Pillsbury, was a firefighter in Pepperell’s horse-drawn days. Andrew’s son, Harold, was “Rabbit” Pillsbury’s father. A distant cousin, Shaun Shattuck, serves in his fire company.

Blood was on hand following the recent explosion on Willowdale Road in Groton and is surprised there was not more damage to adjacent homes. Ironically, he does trucking work for KeySpan.

He remembers very well being trapped with Shattuck in the house fire. Shattuck is his cousin on the Pillsbury side of the family.

“We were starting to panic,” he recalls. “We both got out, though.”

“I intend to stay on the department. I love Pepperell. I was born and raised here,” he said. “It’s the townies who keep things running.”

As he had said when he accepted the award at the firefighter dinner, “To get any kind of recognition from someone I consider the best in the business is truly an honor.

“I truly feel you’re only as good as the people around you,” Blood said. “It’s great having on Engine Company One some older and some young guys who are all about doing the job.”