GROTON -- Meeting in a special session Monday, selectmen met with finalists to replace Joseph Bosselait, the town's retiring fire chief.
Inviting the two finalists in separately, selectmen questioned each in extensive interview sessions covering a number of subjects including sensitive issues that have arisen in recent news reports.
Board members were notified of the identities of the finalists by Town Manager Mark Haddad in a prior meeting where they learned that Steele McCurdy, currently deputy chief for Littleton, and Robert Hart, deputy chief in Acton, had been chosen from over two dozen candidates.
The search process began with the development of a departmental profile followed by advertisements in local media outlets which resulted in 25 applications being received.
At that point, a formal search committee was established to review the candidates, which were cut down to five and interviews conducted. That number was then reduced to three and then to only two: McCurdy and Hart.
First to be interviewed was McCurdy, who told selectmen that one of his strengths is in "working with stakeholders" and having a "well-rounded skill set."
"I'm someone who can listen and build a consensus," said McCurdy of his confidence in working out any differences in the department.
For his part, Hart said he "played well in the sandbox" and possessed the "people skills" necessary to smooth over any problems between departmental employees.
In fact, people skills are one of his main strengths, said Hart. He can empathize with a cross-section of people due to his experience both in the private sector as well as a fireman, he said.
"I believe that my 20 years of experience on the Fire Department and the carpentry business gives me skills the average person doesn't have," explained Hart. "I understand the work ethic and I understand people."
Hart believes that he has the ability to empathize and bring conflicting sides to common ground and inspire subordinates to do better.
Hart called himself a "team player," similar to a coach who could get the most out of his players.
"But the fire chief cannot stand above it all," Hart said of questions dealing with a "strong chief" versus a "weak chief. "He needs the resources of the town."
McCurdy said his experiences in Littleton have given him a "well-rounded skill set" and a management style that involves the inclusion of everyone on his team in the decision-making process.
Not shying away from the question, McCurdy also admitted that with a growing town like Groton and its steady increase in emergency calls, it is likely that down the road, the Fire Department will become an all full-time organization.
That fact can not be ignored, he said, and it behooves any future fire chief to plan for the long-term.
That said, McCurdy reassured selectmen that there is still "plenty of life left in that (current call firefighter) model."
Other issues touched upon by selectmen in their questioning included how to make sure officers meet expected standards of behavior and performance, the handling of personnel, transportation through town, protection from hazardous materials, forest fires, recruitment of call firefighters, dealing with unions, budget formulation and capital planning.
With the conclusion of the interviews, candidates were expected to take part in an evaluation program to be played out the following day.
The program, conducted by the MMA Consulting Group, is intended to test the candidates and evaluate their leadership, supervisory, administrative and management skills.
Whoever is finally chosen by selectmen will replace Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait, who has been on the job for 14 years and is due to retire June 30.