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Interim chief withdraws name as screening committee considers candidates to lead Southampton Fire Department

“At this time I feel that the department is moving forward, and it is time for me to step aside,” Kaleta said in a letter to the Select Board dated July 9.

He has been serving as interim fire chief for just over a year, since Select Board members said they wanted new leadership and ousted former Chief Stephen P. Hyde Sr. on June 21, 2012.

Kaleta, 60, was out of town and unavailable for comment Monday, but in his letter to the Select Board he said he enjoyed working for the town. Before he was named interim fire chief, he was a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years, including six as deputy chief. He worked as a mechanic in the Highway Department until he took unpaid leave from that job to be interim fire chief.

Select Board member Edward J. Cauley, who also heads the Highway Department, said he’s disappointed Kaleta won’t be considered for the permanent fire chief job and he’ll miss working with him.

“He’s always been an excellent employee and I think he made a very good fire chief,” Cauley said.

Kaleta’s letter says he plans to retire July 22, but he added that he would be willing to stay on “for a short time” if the town hadn’t selected a permanent chief by that time.

It is highly unlikely the town will select a new chief that soon, said James Palermo, a member of the fire chief screening committee.

“We hope to recommend three finalists to the Select Board by the end of August,” he said.

The Select Board invited members of the public to seek a place on the committee and appointed Palermo and six others at a meeting May 28. The other members are Hugh Scott, John O’Shea, Patrick Egloff, James Labrie, Town Accountant Vicki Leigh Moro and Treasurer Donna Whitely.

The committee is charged with narrowing down the pool of 28 applicants, which then included Kaleta, conducting interviews, and recommending three finalists to the Select Board. The Select Board will interview the finalists publicly and select one for the job. The job was advertised with a salary range of $65,000 to $70,000.

The committee selected 11 candidates to receive preliminary interviews, which were conducted July 1, 8, 9, and 11. The committee will reconvene Aug. 8 to decide who will get a second interview, Palermo said Monday. He called the group of applicants “very impressive” and said some live far enough away that some interviews may have to be conducted using the video chat program Skype.

“Things have gone really smoothly,” he said of the process. Having committee members who know firefighting helps, he added. Egloff is a deputy fire chief in Westfield, O’Shea is a retired deputy chief in the Springfield Fire Department, and Labrie was a volunteer firefighter in Southampton.

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

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