Acton Deputy Fire Chief Robert Hart, the Board of Selectmen’s unanimous choice to become Groton’s next fire chief, turned down the job offer Thursday afternoon.
BoS Chair Josh Degen called an emergency meeting for Friday at 9 a.m. so the board could discuss its options. In a move similar to what’s known in football as a lateral, the board took only a few minutes to offer the position to Littleton Deputy Chief Steele McCurdy, the other finalist in the fire chief search, and kept its push to have a new fire chief on duty by July 1 alive and moving forward. Degen said that the town hopes to have a “Yes” from McCurdy on or by Monday, and contract negotiations and background checks would proceed after that.
Current Groton Chief Joe Bosselait and Deputy Chief Clarence Jefferson have each sent letters to the town announcing that each will retire effective June 30.
“The perception may be out there that Steele was second fiddle, but that is not the case. Steele was fractionally behind Mr. Hart but either one would make a fine chief,” Degen said. “I have no reservations with his abilities. I have no issues with his innovations, from technology to being a team player, and understanding a call fire department and the needs of a call fire department, probably even more so than what Hart had to offer. I’m very comfortable with him. I think things will work out fine. It was really the consensus of the board that no matter whom we hired, we would be making the right decision.”
According to his resume, McCurdy started his firefighting career as a call firefighter with the Littleton Fire Department in 1998, was hired as a career (full time) firefighter / EMT in 2001, was promoted to Captain in 2007, spent eleven months as the department’s interim chief, and was appointed Deputy Chief in February 2013. He anticipates graduating this fall from Anna Maria College with a B.S. degree in Fire Science. He is a credentialed Chief in Massachusetts.
The Littleton Fire Department is a mixed full time / call department like Groton. According to the town website, there are about 30 call firefighters and 10 full time. Groton’s numbers for call are similar or a little higher, with five full timers.
Groton firefighters at the BoS meeting were generally pleased with McCurdy’s selection; Littleton is one of Groton fire’s mutual aid town, so many people have a nodding relationship with McCurdy because they have seen or met him at fires.
Hart said that after two days of mulling and evaluation, “I’m extremely humbled and flattered by the opportunity, but after careful reflection and consideration, the overall impacts on my life … it just wasn’t the right time for me to embark on a career shift.”
He mentioned that he has four kids, and the Groton job would have had a significant impact on his home life. “A call fire department’s chief is a very busy and active chief. That’s just one of very many influences, but not the only one. But there wasn’t one thing that stood out, that said ‘Don’t do this.’ But there were a bunch of tiny reasons that added up to it not being the right time.”
Currently the Acton Deputy Chief, Hart said that he was impressed by what he had learned of the Groton Fire Department during the interview process.
“I thought there was a strong core group of people in Groton. I was very impressed with Groton’s people (Captain Susan Daly and Captain Jimmy Emslie) who were involved in the search committee, I think they have a lot of potential. Certainly trying to turn around a department with problems — I don’t want to call it ‘struggling’ — is a challenge, but every department has problems, so it’s not unique to Groton. There wasn’t anything going on there that we couldn’t have worked through together, as a team of department heads and a team of firefighters working professionally. I’m sure they’re going to do just fine.”
Hart and McCurdy were two of 25 respondents to the job posting. A search committee narrowed the poll of applicants to seven. Two withdrew. After more interviews and a day of testing that included simulations of stressful situations, the selectmen were left with the two finalists.