Sparks flew during a graduation ceremony intended to celebrate the successful completion of an Islandwide firefighter training course this week, after an Island fire chief accused the county’s fire training council of inflicting undue bias on a Brazilian candidate.
The event, which took place in the cafeteria at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on Tuesday, was to acknowledge the accomplishments of 18 candidates’ completion of Firefighter I/II certifications.
The Firefighter I/II curriculum, set up by the Massachusetts Fire Academy that aligns with the national standard for accreditation, consists of 145 hours of instruction in the classroom and developing practical skills, not including time spent studying, reading, practicing.
On Tuesday, 18 candidates—eight of them women—received their certificates, after completing the five month course.
Those who obtain the accreditation must have completed the required classes and pass a number of tests, including a final written exam.
Presented by the Dukes County Fire Training Council —made up of officers, chiefs, and deputy chiefs around the Island, operating under the direction of the Dukes County Fire Chiefs Association— students were awarded official certifications handed out by various fire department representatives. One student did not.
Chilmark Fire Department Capt. Vitor Silva was rejected from receiving his certification with the rest of the 2023 class, after he was unable to pass and complete an English language final exam.
According to participants and people in attendance, following the awards, Chilmark Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw, who was not listed on the event’s program, took to the podium to make his own announcement, accosting the council’s leadership and instructional support staff for what he said was discrimination against Silva, before awarding the captain an unofficial, symbolic certificate, and praising him for his achievements within and commitment to the Chilmark Fire Department.
After the ceremony, Bradshaw told The Times that Silva was denied the necessary accommodations needed to complete the written tests in his native language of Portuguese, despite numerous requests.
Neither the council nor department leadership spoke to the accusations Tuesday, and rather, continued on to adjournment of the event, following Bradshaw’s abrupt and emotional exit.
But in later calls with The Times, other Vineyard chiefs addressed the outburst, repudiating Bradshaw’s allegations that the council had acted with any prejudice or ulterior motives.
Similarly, they denied experiencing partiality in their respective departments, and said that accommodations are readily available for students that need extra assistance during the months-long course; it is the student’s responsibility to advocate for themselves if they are in need of any aid.
Further, they expressed displeasure with Bradshaw’s behavior at the ceremony, which was to highlight the achievements of a number of other students.
“The Dukes County Fire Chiefs are disappointed in the actions of Chief Jeremy Bradshaw at an event meant to celebrate accomplishments of the students,” Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz told The Times Wednesday.
Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland echoed Wirtz’ statement, adding he’d wished Bradshaw would have engaged with the other Island’s chiefs before the event.
“We’re trying to put together a professional program that best benefits the Island and suits the community,” Leland said, adding that that includes the town’s mutual aid agreements which heavily rely on the sound training of firefighters Islandwide.
He said as with any educational program, standards for the county’s firefighters are set by all the towns, and is reviewed and supported by the Island’s fire chiefs.
Leland also vehemently denied any unfair treatment or bias, sharing that he’s had a Tisbury candidate fail to pass the exam for similar reasons, but after obtaining the necessary accommodations was able to complete the course the following year.
In a message to The Times, Silva referred all questions to Chief Bradshaw.
In a call with The Times Friday, Bradshaw called the situation “disheartening,” but made no apologies for his words Tuesday.
He argued that bilingual tests were not made available to Silva — what he says is the sole reason for him being rejected the accreditation.
Silva is “one of the most valuable firefighters in Chilmark,” he said, adding that his captain has exceeded expectations regarding all practical skills of the curriculum.
According to Bradshaw, the fire training program was run “more administratively.”
“They put people through who can test well,” he said, but are maybe not as skilled “tactically.”
Bradshaw shared it was hard to watch his captain, who was present Tuesday with his wife and daughter, be excluded from the award ceremony.
“It was really sad to see how people get treated,” he said, adding that the council’s decision not to award Silva the accreditation along with his peers, was “an error of judgment.”
Describing Silva as a hardworking family man, who heads the town’s jetski crew and is an active participant in his community, Bradshaw said the department is fortunate to have him..
He said there are plans for a joint meeting with the Island’s fire leadership next week to discuss how to move forward.
Bradshaw also said he’s currently working with Silva to challenge the state’s written exam to include Portuguese options.
“These tests are hard enough to pass with English being your first language,” Bradshaw said. “We can’t discourage these kids, especially volunteers. . . Whatever they give us, we’ve got to be thankful. ”