City weighs options to replace fire chief

WESTFIELD—With the anticipated retirement of Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan, the Westfield Fire Commission made a decision on how they would determine who would be appointed to the position.

Regan is expected to retire in July of this year, which is one of several retirements expected for the department in 2018. The city must take steps to fill the position, and, following a Fire Commission meeting yesterday, it was determined that, pending funding, the commission would seek candidates through an assessment center. The decision comes after the state removed the fire chief examination from civil service last year.

The assessment center option would keep the position within the state’s Human Resources Department (HRD) civil service program. However, this option could also cost the city between $9,000 to $10,000 to run the one-day examination.

Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan

According to the city’s Personnel Director Jane Sakiewicz, the option chosen was one of two that the city had to replace the chief.

The other option would be for the city to take the testing process out of civil service and the city’s hiring process would occur, according to a Dec. 11, 2017 article from The Westfield News. This would include posting the job for 30 days, accepting applications, then creating a pre-screening panel to rank candidates. Currently, the city’s police department utilizes this process for their chief and captain positions.

However, the assessment center option was the only option that the Fire Supervisor’s Association—the group that represents the deputy chiefs—acquiesced to following a meeting discussing the topic, according to Sakiewicz.

Sakiewicz said there are two options available to select the new chief.

“First is to remove the position from civil service, second is to have an assessment center, which the city would have to pay for,” she said. “The first option was presented to the deputy chiefs to see what their feelings were on it and it was received with a negative response.”

Sakiewicz said during the commission meeting yesterday that she previously spoke with the city’s legal department and upon their advice it was suggested that the Supervisor’s Association consent to the decision.

The position would be open to internal candidates within the department, which would be deputy chiefs. According to Fire Commission Chairman Albert Masciadrelli, the option of internal promotion was one that Mayor Brian Sullivan supported.

Jane Sakiewicz, personnel director for the City of Westfield. (Photo by Amy Porter)

According to Sakiewicz, in order to conduct the assessment center option, the city would pay the $9,000 to $10,000 cost to host the one-day examination, which is the price for up to five candidates to take the test.

The department is expected to have four candidates sign up for the examination, which is the minimum needed in order for the assessment center testing to occur. Each candidate could also pay up to $250 to take the examination.

Additional steps in this process would include an outside firm creating the assessment center, which would be specialized to the city. Outside evaluators, such as fire chiefs from other municipalities, would be recruited to screen, interview and conduct scenarios with candidates, then scores of the candidates would be tabulated and provided to the state’s HRD, who then would provide the rankings to the Fire Commission.

Sakiewicz said that this option could be time-consuming, with an estimated development time of eight weeks, in addition to meeting with the Fire Commission, Regan and others on the process.

Members of the commission questioned the option, worried about the cost versus the other process.

“The other option is free and that was shot down,” Patrick Olearcek, Fire Commission member, said, adding that there may be good reasons behind the decision but that one option is free.

Commission member Carlo Bonavita questioned how the assessment center plan could occur with no known funding.

“How do we say go with an assessment if we don’t know where the funding is coming from,” he asked.

Regan responded, saying that it would be incumbent upon her to find the funding.

Olearcek said that the commission was left with just one option based on the situation.

It was also noted by Westfield Fire Deputy Chief Pat Eghloff that in order for the commission to take the fire chief position out of the Massachusetts civil service, the process could take up to a year, which would extend beyond Regan’s anticipated retirement in July and could thus be more time-consuming than the assessment center option.

The commission initially considered holding a special meeting in order to make a determination, but after more discussion members decided to opt for the assessment center, with the decision pending on funding.

The decision will have to still go through additional steps, including approval from City Council.

Opening of positions in the Westfield Fire Department

While the fire chief position will need to be filled following Regan’s anticipated retirement in July, other positions will need to be filled due to other retirements and a reshuffling of the ranked officers on the department to fill the fire chief and other vacancies.

According to Regan, the department will be making “several new hires in the next five months” to help with the losses.

Among the replacements, Regan noted that one deputy chief is expected to retire in early April, while one firefighter position will also need to be filled following an expected retirement in March. These are in addition to another firefighter position that has to be filled after a retirement that occurred in January.

Once all retirements are tallied and the chief’s position filled, Regan noted that the department would then need two new deputy chiefs, which would come from the captain ranks. These promotions would then require two firefighters to then be promoted to captain.


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