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As Southampton nears fire chief search, Interim Chief William B. Kaleta says he’s the man for the job

Interim Chief Kaleta poses next to a firetruck at the Southampton Fire Department on Friday, February 22, 2013. Kaleta is angling to be the permanent chief. 

SARAH CROSBY

Interim Chief Kaleta poses next to a firetruck at the Southampton Fire Department on Friday, February 22, 2013. Kaleta is angling to be the permanent chief. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

— After revising the requirements for the position of fire chief, the town will soon advertise the post that has been vacant since town officials ousted then chief Stephen J. Hyde Sr. in June 2012.

One of the changes to the job description the Select Board approved on Feb. 5 eliminates a college degree from the list of requirements, making Interim Chief William B. Kaleta eligible for the position. Kaleta said he has been improving the department since taking over in June and will apply for the permanent position.

The board also removed the four-year degree requirement before posting the position of town administrator Jan. 22, again making it possible for Interim Town Administrator Regina Shea-Sullivan to apply. The application deadline for the job, vacant since August 2011, is Feb. 28.

While Select Board member and Highway Superintendant Edward J. Cauley was the only dissenting vote in that matter, he supported reducing the requirement for the job of fire chief.

“A fire chief doesn’t need a four-year degree, he needs practical and managerial experience,” he said. “It’d be nice, but this isn’t a metropolitan area where there’s a lot of administration work.”

Before revising the job description, the board asked Easthampton Fire Chief David A. Mottor and the office of the State Fire Marshal to review it and suggest changes. Cauley said that based on that input, the board added to the list of requirements that the candidate have completed several training classes, be certified or pursuing certification as a fire prevention officer, and that the candidate, once hired, must obtain and maintain state accreditation as a fire chief.

The other minimum requirements that were unchanged include 10 years of experience in fire, rescue or emergency medical service, five years in a supervisory position and EMS certification at an intermediate level.

The job description needs to be reviewed by the personnel board, but Cauley said he expects the job to be advertised within a few weeks.

The salary range is $65,000 to $70,000, pending approval of the personnel board, Shea-Sullivan said.

Kaleta, 59, said he’s been shaking things up in the Fire Department and is suited to be the permanent chief. For example, he told the Select Board Jan. 9 that he has been “weeding” the Fire Department.

“There’s been a big turnover; people have left, I fired some, and there’s probably a few more who may leave, and I also have a few more new hires,” he said. “I think the department got stagnant and some people just want to be there, they don’t want to do a whole lot.”

Since he took over, six new firefighters and EMTs were hired, four resigned and one was terminated.

With more than 20 years of experience on the department, he said his lack of a four-year degree shouldn’t matter. “A lot of departments are dropping that requirement,” he said.

“I’ve been doing this job since June 21 and I do believe the department’s been moving forward,” he said. “Morale is up, calls are getting answered and firefighters are being sent to different schools in the area to get additional training.”

He said sending volunteer firefighters to be trained outside the department is an important way to keep the department moving forward. He said two volunteer firefighters are now working to get certified as level one and two firefighters through the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.

“For a long time, we weren’t going to those,” he said of academy training. “I think it will raise the standard of the Fire Department for each and everyone I can send.”

Kaleta has also reinstated a stipend program that he said was suspended six years ago. Under the program, each volunteer who is a certified EMT receives a $25 stipend for each 12-hour on-call shift, as well as the usual per-hour pay for actually responding to a call. He said EMTs are still asked to be on-call twice a week as before, but now they have “a little more incentive to be ready to go” on a call.

“Before, if it was New Year’s Eve or Christmas Day, you stayed home from a call if you wanted to,” he said. “Now, coverage has improved. It’s only $25 but some individuals really appreciate it.”

The roster of the department is now 30 firefighters, but only 20 are active. Kaleta said that to slim down the list, he has been contacting the firefighters who have not been coming to calls to see if they wish to remain on the department. If they don’t respond, as was the case with Stephen J. Hyde Jr., the son of the former chief, Kaleta will terminate them.

“Maybe someone signs up to be a call firefighter and it works great for a year, but then they get married and have kids and they realize they can’t give it 100 percent, but they don’t tell us,” he said. “It’s just got to the point where we need to get rid of people who are not responding so we can get new people in to go to calls.” Kaleta also promoted former lieutenant Richard J. Fasoli, an 18-year veteran of the department, to captain and named 3-year firefighter Kyle G. Miltimore the new lieutenant.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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