Hopkinton mulls next move as fire chief nears retirement

Monitor staff
Thursday, April 21, 2016

The town of Hopkinton and its fire department are scrambling to find a replacement for retiring fire Chief Douglas Mumford, who will hang up his helmet April 29.

At Monday’s select board meeting, several members of the department turned out as the board discussed a possible contract with Municipal Resources Inc. for the upcoming leadership transition. No decisions were made at the meeting – where Chairman Jim O’Brien said the board is in the “exploration” phase of replacing the chief – but the firefighters, including full- and part-timers, made it clear they want to be part of the process.

One volunteer firefighter, Jack McDevitt, who moved back to Hopkinton last year after spending 13 years in Gilford where he was an interim fire engineer and firefighter, said bringing in MRI could have an “adverse effect” on the fire department. 

“Look in house rather than outside,” McDevitt suggested to the board. “Put a little more thought into the talent you already have.”

The meeting revealed tension between the board and fire department, one that Mumford said has risen as departments shift from being an association to part of the municipality.

 “There is always some distrust in government,” Mumford said. “It would appear that is what’s happening here.”

MRI is a consulting service that offers support for various aspects of municipal government, including public works, administration, schools and safety. For the fire department, the board is considering an interim chief, but there are other options MRI offers that the board is considering. One that was discussed is having MRI complete a study on the department and present its conclusions with suggestions to improve operations.

Shawn Murray, a former Goffstown fire captain and Hudson chief, represented MRI at the meeting and would likely be the interim chief if the board decided to go with the company. 

Murray said an interim chief “is really a benefit to not only the department, but the town as well.” Coming from a background of work that included stops in a variety of departments in different situations, Murray said an “outsider” can bring processes from other departments and develop ideas that might work in Hopkinton.

“Certainly not there to takeover the department, but to assist and help them get back on track,” Murray said. “MRI isn’t the big bad wolf. We’re here to help. Truly, that is our goal.”

There is no minimum contract length required with MRI, Town Administrator Neal Cass said. 

But some members of the department would prefer an in-house promotion to chief indefinitely or in the interim, like it did in 2012 after the sudden death of longtime fire chief Rick Schaefer. Deputy Chief Jeffery Yale was put in charge until Mumford, who had returned to the department in 2008 after a seven-year stint in Concord, was named chief. 

Mumford declined to say whether he supported an in-house hire or bringing MRI into the department, choosing to “stay in the center” on the issue. 

The select board agreed to send members to meet with firefighters on two occasions this week to discuss the transition. Selectwoman Sue Strickford made it a point that the board needs to be proactive in including the fire department in the process.

“These guys don’t trust us anymore,” Strickford said.


(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3314, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)