BLACKSTONE VALLEY — Blackstone Town Administrator Dori A. Vecchio and Mendon Town Administrator Kim Newman report that the Towns of Blackstone and Mendon have signed a two-year agreement to share the position of Fire Chief and have appointed current Mendon Fire Chief Bill Kessler to the position.
On Wednesday, both the Town of Blackstone Board of Selectmen and the Town of Mendon Select Board voted unanimously 5-0 to approve the agreement.
The agreement, which will take effect on July 23 following the retirement of longtime Blackstone Fire Chief Michael Sweeney, will remain in place for the coming two years during which time the towns will evaluate the effects of a shared chief while both communities benefit from the leadership and experience of Chief Kessler.
Both fire departments will retain a member of the command staff for operations, while the chief will primarily be responsible for administrative duties for both departments, including the budget process, policies and procedures and management of the two command staffs. At the end of the initial two-year period, the towns will reconvene to determine how the departments will move forward.
Chief Sweeney will retire on July 22 after serving the Town of Blackstone for 47 years. Pursuant to Chapter 415 of the Acts of 1987, most public safety personnel must retire on the last day of the month that they reach the age of 65. In 2019, special legislation was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, which allowed Chief Sweeney, 68, to remain at the head of the department for an additional three years beyond the mandatory retirement age while the town searched for his replacement.
The Town of Blackstone hired Municipal Resources Inc., based in Plymouth, N.H., to assist in the search for and assessment of candidates to replace Chief Sweeney. The assessment center was held on March 11, but it did not result in the selection of a suitable candidate.
The sharing of the fire chief between Mendon and Blackstone will allow the Town of Blackstone to consider options for the future. Shared public safety command positions are common around the country, especially in the West. The shared fire chief structure has been implemented in other municipalities in Massachusetts including Wendell/New Salem, and Richmond/West Stockbridge. The Blackstone/Mendon initiative will allow the towns to work more closely together and share resources. It will also provide the Town of Blackstone with Chief Kessler’s expertise and experience to evaluate the future direction for leadership within the department.
Both communities will save money by sharing the salary of the fire chief, and no cuts will be made to the day-to-day staffing of either department.
Chief Kessler, a well-regarded professional and leader, has led the Mendon Fire Department since 2018. In his time as chief, he has facilitated the development and training of fire officers, and has increased staffing to allow for 24/7 Advanced Life Support (ALS) coverage and coverage companies for nights and weekends. He has also created an apparatus replacement program, instituted vehicle and building preventive maintenance service, and increased interaction with the schools and senior center.
Chief Kessler served with the Uxbridge Fire Department as chief from 2012-2018. Prior to that, he served as deputy chief, district chief and captain. He began his firefighting career in Uxbridge in 1988. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from Bryant University, an associate degree in fire science from Quinsigamond Community College and has completed the Massachusetts Fire Academy Chief Fire Officer Program (CFO).
“I would like to thank the Select Board from the Town of Mendon and Town Administrator Kim Newman for working with me on this mutually beneficial agreement, and for sharing their exceptional fire chief with the Town of Blackstone,” Blackstone Town Administrator Vecchio said. “I look forward to working with Chief Kessler and am confident that he can continue to guide the Blackstone Fire Department forward with the same level of high-quality service our residents expect and deserve.”
Added Mendon Town Administrator Newman: “I am thrilled to be able to share Chief Kessler with the Town of Blackstone and look forward to him applying his wealth of knowledge in both communities. His leadership has been transformative to the Mendon Fire Department and I fully expect that he will serve both communities greatly.”
As part of the agreement, Chief Kessler will split his time between Blackstone and Mendon equally, and the Town of Blackstone will pay the Town of Mendon for his services.
Both the Blackstone and Mendon Fire Departments are combination departments with a mix of full-time career firefighters and on-call firefighters. The Blackstone Fire Department has 12 full-time and 13 on-call members, and the Mendon Fire Department has seven full-time and 13 on-call members.