Oak Bluffs selectmen instructed town administrator Robert Whritenour to work with Police Chief Erik Blake to develop ideas for restructuring and defining roles at the Oak Bluffs Fire-EMS Department.
Key to the restructuring is to develop a six-month administrative role to help handle budgeting and other duties. If that role is approved, selectmen would then work on further defining roles in the department. Selectmen also floated the idea of enlisting help to lead the fire department, such as retired fire chiefs.
“It was clear from the folks over there at the fire department that they need leadership and they want leadership,” selectman Ryan Ruley said. “It was still not clear where folks in that department wanted to go.”
While selectmen and department personnel agreed to having succession plans and a leader in place, their opinions varied on what that would look like. Selectmen met in person with Fire-EMS personnel last week to discuss draft scenarios for restructuring the department. At that meeting, Blake offered to help.
“I’m not a fire scene person … It would be working with [Whritenour] to identify either someone in-house, whether that’s the fire prevention and assistant chief that’s in there every day, to handle the fire calls for service, or someone like a retired person in the fire service,” Blake said. “There’s a lot of talent in that fire department, and see if we can mentor them into leadership roles.”
In scenario A, the town would split the fire and EMS into separate departments, with two separate chiefs. Scenario B would operate similarly to how the department is run now, with one fire-EMS chief, followed by a deputy fire chief and an EMS captain. Scenario C would have one department director to oversee both fire and EMS, followed by some separation between departments, with a fire chief and an EMS captain.
Interim Fire Chief Martin Greene’s six-month contract with the town expires at the end of September, leaving two months to put together a plan for the department.
Selectman Brian Packish reiterated the need for an administrative role in the department. “In the short term, it would probably serve the town and the department really well to create the administrative position,” he said.
The idea would be to have one person dealing with finances, budgets, and working with town committees — relieving stress on the fire and EMS departments, and allowing for further development of what those departments would look like.
The Oak Bluffs Fire-EMS has been rife with issues over the past several years. Most recently, these include the resignation of its embattled former fire chief, John Rose, who left following the town’s decision to settle a sexual harassment claim against Rose for $97,500; federal billing issues with Comstar, the town’s ambulance billing company; and a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the fire-EMS department. A month after Rose left the department, Lt. Shawn Broadley, who was second in command, stepped down. Broadley said the department “needs to heal.”
In 2017, the town restructured the fire department by splitting up fire and EMS duties. In 2018, the department reached a deal to settle unfair labor allegations with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 5137, the department’s union.
“For years leading up to these last couple meetings, all I ever heard from the fire department and EMS was we needed to split the two departments, it wasn’t working, EMTs fighting fires were a problem because they’re paid and they’re standing next to people that are on a stipend, and people that are on a stipend are unhappy because there are people being paid by the hour,” Packish said. “These last few meetings we heard a complete reversal of three years, four years of feedback.”
Whritenour and Blake will work on restructuring, and return to selectmen with potential ideas.
In other business, selectmen heard from Mayflower Wind external outreach manager Chris Hardy.
Mayflower Wind is a joint venture between Shell and EDP Renewables that is working on an offshore wind farm located in the lease area south of the Island.
Mayflower Wind is the second wind farm project to be awarded a solicitation by Massachusetts. Vineyard Wind was the first.
“We’re sort of the newcomer on the block, but we’re working very quickly,” Hardy said.
Mayflower Wind wants to build a 1,200-megawatt wind farm approximately 25 miles off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The company plans to connect its turbines to a facility near Falmouth and on to Bourne via a 70-mile undersea cable that would run east of Chappaquiddick, according to Hardy. Mayflower Wind’s lease area sits southeast of the Vineyard Wind site.
Mayflower Wind is hoping to submit federal permitting plans by the start of 2021, with a hope of approval in 2023. Much like Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind would need approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Edgartown conservation commission, and several other local, state, and federal agencies.