Blake, Schilling to steer O.B. Fire Department

O.B. police chief will be given contract option to be public safety director.

Police Chief Erik Blake is being appointed public safety director and will also oversee the town's fire department. - Gabrielle Mannino

In back-to-back unanimous votes Tuesday night, Oak Bluffs selectmen empowered Police Chief Erik Blake and retired Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling to shape the Oak Bluff Fire Department. 

After returning from an executive session described as “contract negotiations with non-union personnel” on the agenda, chairman Jason Balboni almost immediately accepted a motion from selectman Brian Packish for a three-year contract renewal for O.B. Police Chief Erik Blake. That contract would include “an addendum for six-month public safety director with a six-month renewal clause,” Packish said. 

The board voted unanimously for the contract, though the terms were not immediately released.

When asked by The Times to describe the role of public safety director, town administrator Robert Whritenour said the position was temporary, and “will grant administrative authority for the police department and the fire department under Chief Blake.”

Packish made another motion “to direct the town administrator to enter into negotiations with John Schilling for the position of civilian technical advisor in relation to our fire department.”

The board voted unanimously to do so. 

When asked by The Times what that would entail, Whritenour said, “We’re going to seek to bring in retired Chief Schilling as a civilian technical advisor to make recommendations on the oversight of the fire department, and its training and management of day-to-day operations. And those recommendations will be made through the public safety director.”

Whritenour said Schilling would have no rank in the department, and there will be no change to interim Fire Chief Martin Greene’s role in the department. 

Packish later told The Times he has “complete confidence” in Blake and Schilling. “The two of them have known each other and worked together for a long time,” he said. He said the board was “grateful” Schilling decided to lend a hand so soon after retirement. “John’s a good guy — very even-keeled,” he said.

Neither Blake nor Schilling could immediately be reached for comment.

The moves toward the establishment of a public safety directorship and bringing aboard a retired local chief as a consultant come in the wake of a federal probe into the fire department, specifically into the billing practices of the Oak Bluffs Ambulance Service, and the exodus of Fire Chief John Rose. Rose, whose tenure divided the board of selectmen, was the subject of an MCAD complaint that alleged he mistreated former fire department office administrator Cynthia Hatt by “relentlessly sexually harassing her and creating a hostile work environment.” 

Hatt received $97,500 from the town, and the selectmen hit Rose with a 21-day suspension. 

Rose wound up getting his own payout. He received 50 percent, $65,882.70, of his annual salary as part of a severance deal with the town. He also received full retirement benefits. 

Following Rose’s departure, the town installed Greene, Bourne’s retired fire chief, to act as interim chief for the department.