Last week, following a review of finalists, the Town Administrator recommended an outside candidate for the job of Fire Chief in Brookline ahead of the expected retirement of the current chief.
“The selection of an outside candidate is not meant to degrade the reputation or qualifications of the Brookline Fire Department’s senior leadership. Rather, the Fire Department leadership has my confidence and the internal candidates who moved forward in the Chief process performed very well,” said Town Administrator Mel Kleckner in a memo to the Select Board, which is set to review Kleckner’s pick at the Select Board Meeting Tuesday night.
The recommendation is not a done deal, said Select Board Member Bernard Greene, who was on the committee that helped interview and research candidates.
Greene said he felt the board should give some deference to the town administrator’s views because it is his job to do the due diligence.
“That doesn’t mean we rubber stamp it. We look at information and opinions from the community and any other information that we think should be considered, before we make the final decision,” he said.
Not everyone is happy about bringing in an outsider for the role of fire chief, including the outgoing fire chief.
“I just don’t understand why when we have so many qualified candidates inside the department, why they’d over look that,” he told the media. He said he sent two letters to the Select Board saying as much and encouraging one of the internal candidates. He was especially impressed with current Chief of Operations Flaherty, who has three decades of experience under his belt.
“He really runs a fire better than anyone I’ve heard,” said Chief Rob Ward. Ward stressed that this was not an indictment against the Worcester Deputy Chief up for the job, as he did not know him.
“How can you ignore 35 years of leadership experience internally? That should have outweighted taking someone from outside, even if he’s the greatest person ever. It’s very upsetting to the whole department. But I didn’t have a vote,” said Ward.
Ward said he and the previous chief, Paul Ford sat down on the advice of the town administrator and made a succession plan years ago. And in the past seven years, Ward encouraged firefighters and officers to get educated and apply for promotions and, he said, they sent out a call to diversify their ranks as well in anticipation of helping set up those inside the department to fill the upper ranks. Just four years before, he said, no one was set up within the department to become chief, which is why they went with an outside candidate.
Paul Trahon, a firefighter and a union representative took to social media to ask residents to reach out to Select Board members and encourage them to go with an internal candidate.
“Our current well qualified, experienced Chief of Operations is willing to take on the responsibilities of the Chief of Department,” the Union posted to its Facebook page.
When some residents noted a fresh outlook might be good for the town, Trahon refereneced the chief before Ward, who came in from Fall River and worked for some four years before retiring.
“‘Fresh Outlooks’ only stick around for 3 years and the town ends up absorbing their full pension. We did a fresh outlook already, it didn’t work,” he posted on social media.
But Kleckner defended the town committee’s selection in the memo.
Kleckner said 38 people applied for the position, including eight from within the Brookline Fire Department. Kleckner convened a search group to create an ideal candidate profile, develop an evaluation process that included a writing exercise, formal interviews, and identifying final candidates.
The group was made up of Select Board Member Bernard Greene, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission Chair Kelly Race, Human Resources Board Chair Edward DeAngelo, Fallon Ambulance’s Director of EMS Kevin Mont and Belmont Fire Chief David Frizzell.
The human resources department winnowed the numbers down to five candidates for the group to interview and consider seriously, four of them were internal candidates said Greene. Then after an intensive look, three names were forwarded to Kleckner for further consideration. The Human Resources Director and Kleckner met with each final candidate for more than an hour.
Following this interview, each candidate met with a group of key department heads. The Human Resources Office followed up with reference and related checks on each finalist. Finally, Kleckner met with each Select Board member individually to discuss the process and to seek input on each member’s particular interest or perspective on the Fire Department.
Who’s the Town Administrator’s pick?
John F. Sullivan is currently the deputy chief of operations for the Worcester Fire Department.
As Worcester’s Deputy Chief of Operations for the past eight years, Sullivan is responsible for all aspects of departmental administration, including the budget, personnel, information technology and fleet management.
“He possesses a combination of education, experience, leadership and personal characteristics that makes him eminently qualified to serve as Brookline’s next Fire Chief,” said Kleckner.
Sullivan has worked for the past 30 years as a Firefighter in Worcester, he has also seen as a national leader in firefighter safety and survival, active in the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the U.S Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association and a number of other state and regional organizations dedicated to the fire service.
He teaches fire service at the college level and at the Massachusetts Fire Training Academy. Earned his Masters in Public Administration, an Executive Fire Officer (EFO) certification of the USFA’s National Fire Academy.
Why not go with one of the eight candidates who applied from within?
“I am confident that a future Fire Chief is among our current complement of senior officers and we encourage them to continue advancing their professional development,” said Kleckner.
However, he said he went with Sullivan because he performed well and had the right firefighting and administrative qualification.
“His demonstrated leadership on both the local and national arena will bring a fresh perspective and level of professionalism that could lead to transformative change in the Department,” said Kleckner.
Greene said what it came down to in the end was who was the best candidate.
“There’s no magic to an internal versus an external candidate. The question is who is the best candidate for the position given the state of the department and the issues that the town administrator, the board and community think are important and who best fits into that,” he said.
In years past, the town was restricted to internal candidates but a statute changed that to give more flexibility.
“It’s important to note I think the final three candidates were all exceptional people.”