Oak Bluffs begins search for new fire chief

Selectmen set town meeting date, but expect to move it amid pandemic.

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Oak Bluffs will begin its search for a new fire chief.

A year after the departure of the former fire chief, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously to begin recruiting a new top administrator for the department.

At a meeting Tuesday night, selectmen heard from Public Safety Director Erik Blake and former Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, who was acting as a consultant for the town. The two worked together to establish a list of qualifications for a new chief.

The list included a future chief with a bachelor’s degree in fire science, public administration, or other related discipline; administrative, financial, and budgetary experience; 10 years of experience in the fire service, with at least five years in a command role; experience working with EMS; knowledge of Massachusetts Fire Prevention Code; experience working in a call volunteer system; training with National Incident Management System (NIMS); and strong preference for someone with advanced fire officer training.

“We want to see someone who’s been working their way up through a fire department and has experienced different levels of rank and responsibility,” Schilling said.

Selectmen commended Shilling and Blake for their work in establishing the criteria. A group made up of selectmen, Blake, Schilling, and leaders at the fire department will be put together to interview candidates. Selectmen chose to keep the hiring group in-house as opposed to using an assessment center, an outside company that evaluates potential candidates.

“Thank you all for all the hard work, including all the members down there that as Chief Schilling said, have gone through a lot in the past 18 months,” selectman Jason Balboni said.

Assistant town administrator Wendy Brough told selectmen she will conduct a “broad sweep” advertising campaign for the position, which will take place over the next month.

In other business, selectmen set their ducks in a row for the annual town meeting and election, setting tentative dates for both town events.

Selectmen set town meeting for April 13 at the Performing Arts Center and the election on April 15 at the Oak Bluffs Town Hall, but also gave town administrator Robert Whritenour the authority to move the meeting and election to May at the Tabernacle, pending the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“April 13 is going to come awfully quick,” Whritenour said. “I don’t feel comfortable that on April 13 we’ll be able to conduct an annual town meeting indoors at our normal venue.”

When the pandemic hit last spring, every Island town moved its town meetings to later dates to allow for outside and open-door meetings with proper social distancing, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Whritenour said Gov. Charlie Baker is allowing towns to move town meetings once again, but only if they set an initial date.

Selectman also approved a letter of endorsement for Mark Leonard, chair of the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee, to be appointed to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority board of directors by the Dukes County Commission. Leonard would fill the spot left by Harvey Beth, who resigned from the housing authority board in December.

“I think it’s a good fit for me personally, and I think it’s a good fit for the town,” Leonard said.