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Allenstown moves forward on search for long-term part-time fire chief



Monitor staff
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

After a year of entrusting its fire chief duties to an interim contractor, Allenstown is moving closer to more permanent leadership for its fire department.

Interim fire Chief Shawn Murray, along with a team of fire officials from other communities, were set to interview five candidates for the town’s part-time fire chief position Tuesday. The plan is to narrow the field to three finalists, who will meet with the select board after Labor Day weekend, before making a final decision.

The position, listed at 28 hours per week in the job posting on the town website and described as 26 hours per week by Town Administrator Derik Goodine, is tucked right below the state maximum of hours for retired firefighters collecting a pension, a strategy many towns use to attract experienced applicants while saving money. But that’s not the pool the town is targeting, according to Goodine.

“We haven’t got the retirees as applicants,” Goodine said.

The larger goal of hiring a part-time chief was to keep costs to the town lower than with a full-time chief while maintaining the hourly accountability lost with a stipend pay model, according to Goodine. The town has budgeted for a salary of $45,886 and total compensation with benefits at a price tag of $49,397, according to projections from earlier this summer.

Part-time status wasn’t the only decision the town had to make about the position. The biggest change happened just over a year ago, after the exit of the town’s fire chief of four years, Dana Pendergast, who wore more hats than just a fire helmet – he was also the town’s building inspector and health inspector. That’s a tough combo to find again, Goodine said.

“We’ve separated those positions because it’s difficult to find all three of those in one candidate,” he explained.

Pendergast resigned in July 2017 after he was placed on leave. Town officials at the time did not disclose the reason for the leave, citing confidential personnel matters.

But Pendergast’s exit led to the hiring of Murray, who connected with the town through Municipal Resources Inc., a consulting and headhunting firm in Meredith. And now Murray, who has been serving the town on a contract basis, is leading the search for his long-term replacement when his contract runs out in October.

“We’ve trusted him to do it, to organize the stages, if you will,” Goodine said of Murray. “He’s been fine-tuning us and getting us ready for this moment.”

The moment as of Tuesday found Murray tasked with tabbing three applicants to talk to Goodine and the three members of the select board. At Monday night’s select board meeting, members decided on Sept. 3 and 5 as target dates for interviews, pending scheduling with the candidates.

Goodine said Monday he was hoping the scheduling wouldn’t be delayed too long, partly to get a candidate in place for the town, and partly for personal reasons: A fantasy football draft set for Thursday night.

“I know a lot of people don’t think it’s crucial, but those first few rounds are pretty important,” Goodine said with a laugh. “This is more important than the draft, though.”

(Nick Upton can be reached at 369-3315 or nupton@cmonitor.com.)