The Oak Bluffs select board chose W.F. Nelson Wirtz as the town’s next fire chief at a meeting Tuesday.
A career firefighter for the past 25 years, Wirtz is currently a captain with the Chatham Fire Department. Wirtz said his familiarity with Martha’s Vineyard, working in a seasonal community, and his education and training make him a great fit for the town. He added that his temperament and personality are well suited for Oak Bluffs.
Wirtz said the core function of a small-town fire department is the community interaction. “Being ready and able to respond to whatever the complaint is that comes over the phone,” Wirtz said.
Wirtz said the biggest challenge for him would be personnel and working to become a member of the department and the community as a new person from off-Island. But he added that his master’s thesis focused on how to make the fire service more accepting and affirming for all genders, races, and the LGBTQ community.
“The doors need to open for everybody,” Wirtz said. “I would like to be a part of a community-wide effort in the town departments to promote a more community-wide affirmation that everyone is accepted.”
He said he would encourage fire prevention through community outreach to elderly populations, conduct smoke detector replacement programs, and work in the schools.
Retention of fire department members was of particular importance to both Wirtz and the board.
“Not everyone wants to be an EMT, not everyone wants to run into burning buildings, although it’s very exciting,” Wirtz said. “There are other things people can do as part of the community and fire service as a volunteer.”
The decision to hire Wirtz came following a two-hour meeting where select board members interviewed three finalist candidates: Wirtz, Andrew M. Went of Lincoln, R.I., and William R. Choate of Lakeville.
During their deliberations, select board members Ryan Ruley, Greg Coogan, and Jason Balboni said Wirtz stood out from the other candidates due to his training and familiarity with the Cape and Islands.
“One of things I liked about [Wirtz] is any question you asked him, he was thoughtful, he took a minute, he wasn’t in a hurry to answer anything,” Coogan said. “I would love to see him come here.”
“I think Mr. Wirtz would be my No. 1 pick,” Balboni said. “I think we brought three great candidates in front of everyone today.”
Ruley said he liked Wirtz’s experience as a firefighter on the Cape and his training résumé. “He has been an instructor at the Cape Cod Center for Public Training Facility since 2016. He’s trained firefighters from the Vineyard, he has access to training for us, and that access to training can be brought down to the Vineyard,” Ruley said.
President of the department’s firefighter union Dick Velez asked for Wirtz’s thoughts on merging the department’s Fire and EMS staff. Wirtz said he wanted to get a better understanding of the department’s operations before offering an opinion, but added that combining duties was not insurmountable, and he would be happy to discuss ideas with the union.
Select board members Gail Barmakian and Brian Packish said they leaned more toward Choate due to his references and background, but the board ultimately voted 4-1 to appoint Wirtz for three years pending contract negotiations. Packish was the lone dissenting vote.
Select board members thanked Went and Choate for applying, and said it was difficult to choose between the three.
“I have a very strong feeling about the community of Oak Bluffs,” Wirtz said. “I love being in a seaside community, and I understand the issues that go along with a seasonal community, the stresses it puts on the year-round population, and weighing the concerns of the seasonal population. I really appreciate this opportunity, and I’m grateful to be here.”