Wareham fire chief candidates focused on improving department morale

Jun 14, 2018

One week after those tasked with hiring Wareham’s next fire chief delayed the decision due to a conflict of interest, they publicly interviewed four candidates vying for the position.

The department has been without a permanent chief since last July when Robert McDuffy retired. Pat Haskell has been interim chief since January and is one of the four candidates. The others include Assistant Fire Chief John Kelley, Capt. Mickey Bird and Capt. Matt Rowley. Last week, firefighters submitted a petition backing Rowley, complete with the signatures of enough department members to fill two pages.

Of the five-member Prudential Committee, only four participated during Wednesday’s interviews. The committee oversees fire department operations. The state’s Attorney General’s office ruled that member George Barrett could not vote because his son is a member in the department. Previously, some firefighters questioned why that decision didn’t restart the process. Chair Ron Enos said he would not comment on that.

Before the interviews, Enos noted that committee members would score the candidates on each question using a five-point scale, five being the best. Those scoresheets and notes would then be secured in a vault inside the clerk/treasurer’s office. The scores are set to be tallied over the next week. Enos said the committee is tentatively set to select a new chief on June 21. The position currently pays $136,250. It's unclear what the new chief will be paid at this time.

“I’m trying to move this along as quickly as I can,” said Enos. “We just want to be sure when we’re done it’s the right person for the job.”

Each candidate was asked the same set of initial questions with various follow ups. All mentioned that addressing occupational cancer in firefighters and improving morale in the department were chief concerns.

Capt. Mickey Bird

A Wareham firefighter since 1995, Bird, 39, was hired full-time in 2002. He became a captain in 2015. Bird is a lifelong resident of Wareham.

When asked about the key values a good chief must instill in the department, Bird said leadership. He noted the department had been struggling without a permanent chief.

“You look at the departments around us and they’re all in this together. Unfortunately, we forgot that,” said Bird. “We do have a difficult problem with morale. We need a leader.”

To improve morale, Bird said it would take months, if not a few years, to get the department to where it should be. That would involve speaking with department members to get their input and holding regular department meetings.

“That’s one thing we’re lacking, department meetings. We should be meeting on a monthly basis,” said Bird. “We had a three-alarm fire last week and we should all be critiquing ourselves.”

Interim Fire Chief Pat Haskell

Haskell, 41, another lifelong resident, was hired in 1995. In 1999 he became a full-time firefighter and was named assistant chief in 2013. As interim chief since January, Haskell said he’s seen what it takes to run the department.

“I’ve been through the budget process, at district meeting, dealing with different situations…I feel that I can make the department better than it already is, together with my senior officers,” said Haskell.

He stressed teamwork as a key value for the department.

“We’re not in this alone,” said Haskell. “Without each other, we won’t succeed.”

Regarding improving morale, Haskell said he would ask firefighters for ideas and opinions.

“It’s important to give people the ability to speak their mind and come up with ideas,” said Haskell. “Give them a little buy-in…If people feel they have a say and want to do different things morale is more apt to come up.”

Looking ahead, Haskell said the fire service has changed dramatically since he first joined and he would keep the department moving forward.

“When I started, we were learning about brush fires,” he said. “Now, we’re learning about terrorism, fentanyl, occupational cancer – we have to be sure we address all these things and are ready for whatever comes at us.”

Asst. Fire Chief John Kelley

Kelley echoed Bird’s comments about a lack of leadership over the past year, noting that improving morale would be a focus for him if hired.

To that end, he said if hired he would call a department-wide meeting as soon as possible. Following up, he would speak with each firefighter individually.

“We need to get the department back as a whole instead of having it divided,” said Kelley. “That will be a big challenge in the department due to not having a chief for quite some time.”

Originally from Boston, Kelley, 44, joined the Wareham Fire Department in 1995. He was promoted to assistant chief in 2014. During his interview, he said leading by example is a critical part of the chief’s job.

“We all started this career the same way. You have to be part of the team and be on the job when it’s 2 a.m. and it’s 10 degrees out. As the chief, it’s your obligation to be with your men.”

When asked about problems facing the fire service in general, Kelley said that increasing manpower, replacing aging equipment and fire prevention were all crucial.

“A key issue within the fire service now is community risk reduction,” said Kelley. “We also have to see how we allocate staff and need to look into possibly manning another station.”

Capt. Matt Rowley

Rowley, 49, is a lifelong Wareham resident who joined the department in 1985. He was promoted to captain in 2003. In his interview, he said key values to instill in the department were honesty, integrity and camaraderie.

“If firefighters are looking at their leader and he’s not holding those values, it won’t hold water,” said Rowley. “To me, it’s lead by example and show the public honesty and integrity in everything we do.”

When asked about leadership, Rowley said it’s important to motivate staff by figuring out what makes them want to succeed.

“You need to get firefighters to see themselves as good as you see them to help motivate them to be a success,” said Rowley.

On improving morale, Rowley said he would focus on increasing transparency within the department.

“Keeping everything transparent and on a level they understand and giving them reasons why decisions are being made will be the biggest key for bringing morale back,” said Rowley.

He said his involvement with the community and support he has from fellow firefighters made him the best choice.

“Having great rapport with the members of this department, a great rapport with the community that I was raised in, will certainly allow me to be the right choice for you,” he said.