Updated Feb. 5
Just 24 hours after announcing the resignation of Fire Chief John Rose, Oak Bluffs selectmen held a surprise meeting Saturday afternoon to talk about the department’s future with fire station command staff.
A meeting notice was stamped by the town clerk’s office at 3:45 pm Friday. The notice was subsequently affixed to the front door of town hall, selectmen’s office administrator Alice Butler said. There was no posting online, she said. Asked about the content of the meeting, town administrator Robert Whritenour referred questions to the board of selectmen.
Town leaders won’t specify whether Rose, who was earning $131,736, is still working. Their statement issued Friday says he will retire effective April 30. Selectmen chairman Brian Packish said Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Broadley and Assistant Fire Chief Manuel (“Manny”) Rose are “stepping up,” but referred to the statement for any other details on the agreement.
In an email Rose sent to staff members Friday, he indicates he’s no longer working. “It is with conflicted emotions that I officially announce to you my retirement from the position as chief and as a paramedic for the town of Oak Bluffs,” he wrote. “I want to start by apologizing for the impersonal nature of this email informing you all of my departure. I wish that I could have addressed the department in person, however each time I tried to get through what I wanted to say, I found myself too emotional.”
Packish said Saturday’s meeting, which was meant to “reset a conversation” with fire and EMS personnel following a leadership loss, “went fairly well.” Between 35 and 40 people attended the meeting, he said.
“We’re not going to be taking any steps to move forward without their input,” he said.
Packish did not elaborate on the concerns expressed by fire personnel, but characterized the meeting overall as “positive” in the wake of an “unfortunate” event. He said Rose, who was promoted to chief in 2014, was an “extremely capable paramedic” and an “extremely capable firefighter,” and the loss of his talent leaves a big gap at the department.
In his email, Rose thanked his co-workers. “It has been a pleasure working alongside all of you over the span of my career, from when I first started out as a volunteer firefighter in my teens, to being the captain of Engine 4, becoming an EMT/paramedic, captain of the ambulance, assistant chief, and eventually the chief of the department,” Rose wrote. “For those of you who know me personally, you know that I put my blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul into my job.”
Rose also touched on the difficulty of being a first responder. “The nature of our jobs can be difficult, as many of us have risked our own lives to help others, and have seen our fair share of lives lost,” he wrote. “The camaraderie between all of you and the things we have accomplished as a department is something I am incredibly proud to have been a part of.”
Asked if the board has a replacement in mind for Rose, Packish said, “Not at this particular point in time.” Rose “expressed a willingness to assist in the transition however he can,” Packish said.
He said as much in his email to staff. “My door is always open to any of you,” Rose wrote. “Don’t hesitate to call or reach out if you happen to need anything.”
The speed with which Saturday’s meeting took place was necessary to address the fire department’s needs and concerns after the chief’s resignation, Packish said. The designation emergency was “the only way we can legally post in 24 hours,” he said.
No votes were taken during the meeting, he said. The Times has requested a copy of minutes taken during the session.
Rose and his siblings, in their capacities in the fire station and ambulance service, were previously the subject of a state ethics investigation. At the time, two of Rose’s sisters and his brother worked under the same roof with him. That investigation found Rose violated conflict of interest law; however, no state penalties were imposed, but the town put procedures in place to avoid such conflicts in the fire station going forward.
Asked if concerns about potential conflicts of interest exist at the fire station in light of the fact Rose’s sister and brother still hold officer positions there, “I think we’re always mindful,” Packish said.
He said Trulayna Rose, a fire EMS lieutenant and Manuel Rose, assistant chief, are “first-class paramedics and firefighters.”
Though he conceded the subject of ethics isn’t likely to die down completely, “it’s been reviewed, and probably will continue to be challenged by certain individuals,” he said.
Packish said it would be a “mistake” to diminish their contributions to the department by only looking at them via an ethics lens.
Asked if the medical billing contract for the ambulance service, currently held by Comstar, will be revisited and potentially opened to other bidders, he said that is “100 percent” likely to happen.
“That’s a decision that’s already been made,” he said. He expects Whritenour will have an RFP crafted shortly, if it’s not already finished.
Rose held town plumbing contract
The position of fire chief hasn’t been Rose’s only Oak Bluffs role, according to former EMS Lt. Rich Michelson. “He was basically the town plumber,” Michelson told The Times.
Whritenour acknowledged Rose has done paid plumbing work for Oak Bluffs per a contract.
The Times requested and received a copy of the contract, which shows an agreement was in force from June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2019. Whritenour said that Rose was the only bidder for the contract because it was difficult to find other people who wanted to do the job. In the contract Rose used the business name John Rose Plumbing and Heating. The journeyman rates listed were $110 per hour for weekdays, $150 per hour for nights, weekends, and holidays. The apprentice rates were $90 across the board. The estimated sum total of the combined hourly work between a journeyman and an apprentice was $12,400 per year or $37,200 for three years. This falls below the greater than $50,000 trigger for competitive bidding under Massachusetts procurement law. Among the client references Rose gave in the contract were Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake and Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr.
Rose remains the town’s plumber. “This contract has not been formally extended,” Whritenour wrote in an email, “but is in holdover status at the sole discretion of the Town pending re-bid scheduled for February 2020.”
Whritenour went on to write: “It’s been a major concern that we only received one bid and creating more competition is a strong goal of mine. I’m open to any ideas or suggestions for increasing the competition as I prepare to advertise for a new contract.”.
He did not offer much description about the types of plumbing jobs Rose has done for the town except to say some of them were at the harbor. Richard Combra Jr. said Rose does work for his department, most often by sending an assistant named “Chucky” to complete the task.
Packish said, “I have no idea” what’s going on with Rose’s plumbing contract. He said the board hasn’t had conversations on the subject.
“I think those positions get advertised on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s a very different thing than an employment contract.”
Rose may be headed back into the plumbing business in general, an occupation he had previously. Michelson said he believed Rose has purchased a new utility truck for plumbing.
A Times reporter passed Rose in a black utility truck on Monday that had a length of PVC pipe extending off the bed.
Updated with additional contract information.