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TILTON / NORTHFIELD

Fire chief to keep post after renting a house

Employment form requires residency

Tilton-Northfield Fire and EMS Chief Brad Ober (right) and Capt. Tim Joubert assess the scene of a fatal fire at 35 Granite Street in Northfield on Friday, February 10, 2012.

(Greg Lindstrom/Monitor Staff)

Tilton-Northfield Fire and EMS Chief Brad Ober (right) and Capt. Tim Joubert assess the scene of a fatal fire at 35 Granite Street in Northfield on Friday, February 10, 2012. (Greg Lindstrom/Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Bradley Ober will remain chief of the Tilton-Northfield Fire & EMS Department, after renting a house in Tilton just one day before he was set to be fired for failing to meet a residency requirement.

Ober, who owns a home in Ashland, was hired by the department in 2004 and became chief in 2010. Upon being hired as chief, he signed an employment agreement saying he would move into the district within 18 months. In June, the three-person fire commission extended that deadline to Jan. 2 after Ober said he was unable to sell his home without taking a financial loss. Throughout 2012 Ober and the commission worked to resolve the issue, but as the deadline approached, two commissioners remained steadfast that Ober must move or lose his job.

On Tuesday, one day shy of the deadline, he rented a house on West Main Street in Tilton, which is right down the street from the station, he said. He still has not sold his home in Ashland, which is about a 20-minute drive from the station. Ober moved into the Tilton building Wednesday and has filled out the appropriate paperwork for residency such as registering to vote in that district, he said.

The debate surrounding the residency requirement lasted nearly a year. Neither Ober nor Pat Clark, chairman of the fire commission, would comment directly on the discussions, but details are available in meeting minutes from throughout the year. The commission itself was split, with Commissioner Tom Gallant disagreeing with the requirement and Clark and Commissioner Paul Auger in favor of it.

Pat Consentino, chairwoman of Tilton’s board of selectmen, also thought the requirement was unfair. Ober has always been visible in both communities despite living in Ashland, she said.

“I’m extremely pleased that he will remain as chief in the district, he’s an asset to our community,” Consentino said yesterday. “I’m displeased with the commissioners that they find it necessary to make it a financial burden on the chief to have a mortgage and rent in order to keep his job. I find it despicable.”

On the other side, commissioners Clark and Auger said the agreement of employment was legally binding, and the community would be better served if Ober lived within it. Clark said he is glad that Ober has met the requirement and will remain as chief.

“It’s been real tough for everyone to go through this,” Clark said yesterday. “We were hoping to come out the other side feeling positive (and) moving forward to provide what we’re here to do, and that’s provide good safety for the public.”

Throughout the debate, Consentino and others wondered whether the residency requirement would be extended to all of the fire department employees. There has been no discussion of that, Clark said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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