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NEWS: Process To Replace Fire Chief Begins [with video]

The Lost Lake Fire Station Community Room was crowded Monday night with call department members and full-time firefighters to provide input and suggestions to the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen on the process that will be used to replace Chief Joe Bosselait who is retiring from the Fire Department in June after having served in that capacity for fourteen years.

Town Manager Mark Haddad told the department members that the Fire Chief Search Committee was not yet established, but that he wanted to include one or two members from the Fire Department along with Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham and Josh Degen, citizen-at-large Bud Robertson and a yet to be determined department head. Cunningham asked the department members for their 'thoughts and observations'.

Call firefighter Bill VanSchalkwyk told the officials to make "the process as open and transparent as possible" and asked Haddad to describe how the committee would work, acknowledging that in the end it is the Town Manager's choice what candidates to bring to the Board of Selectmen.

Chairman Cunningham said that they would use different media to get word out about the open position, adding that they would look at the candidates, identify what to look for in a Chief, and talk with other departments. He expected that resumes would be screened and a baseline established, noting that if the committee received 12 to 18 applications, it would be narrowed to six to interview. Candidates will most likely come from within Massachusetts as they would be familiar with the rules and inspection processes as well as from neighboring New Hampshire.

Haddad stressed that the initial interviews would be conducted in private and once the finalists are chosen it would become a public process. He said there will also be an Assessment Center conducted by a consultant that will put the candidates through what they might expect in the "real life situations" He pointed out that the assessment have been very successful in other hiring situations, notable the Police Chief.

Selectman Degen stressed that it was very important to have a chief from a 'hybrid' department - one with call members as well as some fulltime firefighters. He would also like to see someone that has begun or completed the new certification process for fire chiefs, not as a requirement but as a beginning of the process.

Cunningham asked the firefighters how they would choose representation. Mike Cully told officials that he would like to see two members from the Fire Department included, with a broad representation of interests of everyone involved". He suggested that the department use a nomination process as a way to create transparency, adding that firefighters would need to know the level of time commitment that would be involved. Cunningham said that he would like to see the Chef lead the process for nominations and voting.

VanSchalkwyk suggested that with such a time commitment interviews could be done in one day. Many call department members have other jobs so it will be important to schedule interviews that can accommodate their schedules.

Haddad said that advertising for the open slot would begin in February with resumes expected in March; April and May would be set aside for screening and the hiring target for a new Fire Chief is July 1.

Cunningham stressed that "we are not in a position to fund a fulltime fire department and we are committed to maintain a call department." He added, "A full time department could not be supported by taxpayers."

Department member Brad Kane stressed that he would like to see one member from the call part of the department and the other member from the fulltime staff, as there are different needs for career firefighters and call members who have other occupations. He also addressed is the division between the EMS and fire and pointed out that the West Coast has a more modern integration of these.

VanSchalkwyk reminded everyone that "We are one department, with call personnel and career personnel."

Cunningham told the group, "You as a department find out who can make the commitment" and let us know. Haddad added that if anyone has input or questions and might feel uncomfortable talking in front of a large group, they could contact him offline and he would respond.

Groton Herald

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