Forrest Filler — Getting out of the shuffle

— Rich Saltzberg

What prompted me to join the fire department was [Chilmark] Tim Carroll, town administrator, who’s also on the fire department. He mentioned that the department needed people and that he thought that it might be a good fit for me. And I was aware of our housing situation here, which I understood to mean that basically you have a community where you don’t have a lot of younger people who are either able to live here or able to have the time — because of the type of jobs that younger people are working — to volunteer with the department. And you can see that when you look at the population of the fire department in Chilmark, that it trends a little bit older. And you know, part of that is because of the housing shortage that we have here, particularly among younger people who may not be able to afford a million-dollar home.

So I was interested, and I had been a member of a fire department where I had grown up in New Jersey, briefly during the summers through college, so I went and met with the group and they were very warm and welcoming, and I’ve been with them ever since.

I moved here because of my girlfriend, who lives here. So that’s what brought me to the Vineyard. I went to college in Ohio, and one of my good friends from college, she had grown up here for a portion of her childhood, and was very close with my current girlfriend. So she connected us, and that’s how we met.

I am the emergency manager in Aquinnah, a member of the community emergency response team, which is a really great group. So emergency management is really something that I came to from a personal interest in sort of the technical side of radio things. I’ve been very interested in computers and hardware and software, and typically radio, and other things on the electronic spectrum really. I’m an amateur radio [operator] … A big part of amateur radio is public service, and a big part of that is providing backup communications for municipalities and government during times of disaster, and in fact that’s a core part — you know, the reason — that FCC allows amateur radio to have the type of operating privileges they do have … So I got involved with Dukes County through Chuck Cotnoir, who was the emergency manager director with the county. I was volunteering with him just because I reached out, because I was interested. Through my interactions with Chuck, I eventually started volunteering for the Aquinnah Community Emergency Response Team, CERT Team. At the time Gary Robinson, who was also on the Chilmark Fire Department, Gary was our assistant chief here;, Gary was the emergency management director in Aquinnah. So I interacted with him and the CERT team a lot — mostly on the communications side — I was trying to provide some ways or strategies to help deal with some of the challenges that people have with communication, with cell phone service, and otherwise. And that’s what brought me to emergency management and radio — I’m very excited about those kinds of technologies.

I work as a consultant in the construction industry. I mean, my background is in historic preservation, so when I first moved here, I would do historic preservation, but mostly in residential construction — the residential construction market is a very big quarter. So I find myself working as a subconsultant for general contractors and owners to help shepherd projects through redevelopment as well as development. Sometimes that includes things like actually doing construction work. Other times it’s doing digital things, using computers, so that’s what I do during the day, mostly.
What’s great about the Chilmark Fire Department is that they’re welcoming, and we have an interesting group of people. We’re starting to get some younger people to join, which is really exciting, although, you know, without housing, a lot of those people who are younger who are here have housing instability issues … finding a place for young people is critical for the lifeblood as a home and to keep it from becoming a resort.

Basically from my day job where I’ve worked, you know, doing a lot of predevelopment projects and researching what’s available, what’s on sale, and bringing different construction projects to fruition, there’s not really very much that’s available for people below $1 million. So for a younger person, it’s pretty hard to swing a mortgage like that.

I live with my girlfriend, who lives on sort of a homesite-like lot that was subdivided from her parents’ family land, and basically because of her family’s generosity, we’re able to be here.

Obviously it had to go through a special permitting process, and there’s still not tons of that. I know that they’re working on a plan — Peaked Hill Pastures — and they’ve had some listening sessions. But you know, it’s pretty tough for people to find a place who are not looking for a vacation home.

I was basically subletting rooms, and if you’re lucky you might find a family that might sublet a respectful single person a room for a period of time, but you’re kind of living on borrowed time. You have that kind of housing insecurity that you just never know what’s going to happen. And I didn’t have any dependents, I didn’t have any pets — so I was very lucky. They were very kind to help me, but if you have any kind of family, or a dependent or dependents, or pets, then you’re going to struggle in the shuffle, for sure.

It’s a strange kind of a push and pull, here on the Island where you’re sort of at a critical mass point here with development and our watershed, with wastewater disposal, with traffic — really all the kinds of metrics that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission measures. You look at that, and housing as well, but it’s kind of a thing where you need housing for people, you need workforce housing, you need housing for the normal housing of people, but I don’t know … it just seems like we’re in an antagonistic relationship between the need for housing and the need for conservation, and they seem mutually exclusive of one another.

It seems to be a very polarizing topic, but it’s always important to preserve and conserve open spaces, and it’s also important to make sure people have a place to live, and sometimes that’s hard to rectify.

Interviewed by Rich Saltzberg.