West Tisbury’s select board was poised to choose the town’s next fire chief Wednesday, but will now delay doing so after fire officers and veteran firefighters complained they haven’t been included in the process. West Bridgewater Fire Lt. William Choate, West Tisbury Deputy Fire Chief Greg Pachico, and West Tisbury Fire Capt. Marques Rivers are the contenders for the position. Current Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III will retire June 30.
“They’re going to put it off for a week,” town administrator Jennifer Rand said of the selection process.
The Times obtained several emails objecting to the process through a public records request. In an April 23 email, West Tisbury Fire Lt. Brynn Schaffner requested on behalf of the majority of the town’s fire officers that their input be heard before a choice is made. Those officers include Lt. Mark Bettencourt, Lt. Louis deGeofroy, Capt. Kenny Mastromonaco, Capt. Eric Medeiros, Lt. Steve Serusa, Lt. Chris West, and Lt. Schaffner.
“We know that a lot of time and effort was put into narrowing it down into the last [three] candidates that you have selected,” Schaffner wrote. “But, before you make your final decision, we would like to request that you reach out to all the officers that are currently on the fire department and ask us for our opinions on the final candidates. We work and have worked with two of the finalists for years. And we would be an invaluable resource to ask questions of on their leadership and administrative styles.”
The email goes on to state, “Right now we are feeling left out of this huge decision. And whatever is decided, we will be the ones working with whatever decision you come up with.”
In a letter to the board, West Tisbury firefighter and rescue squad member Mike Hull, a member of the department for decades, expressed sentiments similar to Schaffner’s. “There is a feeling,” Hull wrote, “that we are being left out of a decision that will impact us members the most. I believe it is important for the morale of the department that we are included in the process, and it would ease the transition of the new chief, as well.”
In an April 23 email, deGeofroy, a member of the department for more than 30 years, wrote, “I strongly recommend getting the department officers’ input into the decision on who should be the next fire chief. Having a chief won’t do you much good if all the Indians leave the reservation.”
Reached by phone on Tuesday, deGeofroy said he had made a poor phrase choice “trying to play off the word chief,” and it wasn’t meant prejudicially. “I meant no disrespect to Native Americans,” he said.
He said he grew up in the 1960s, and his word choice was an accidental echo from that era. “I did not mean it in a negative way,” deGeofroy said.
What he said he was trying to convey was a chief the department doesn’t support could trigger a loss of volunteer firefighters. “We risk decimating our personnel more than they are already,” he said.