After 17 years with the Nantucket Fire Department - including the last two as its deputy chief - firefighter Sean Mitchell has submitted his resignation and is moving off-island to take a job with Massport Fire Rescue.
Mitchell’s last day with the Nantucket Fire Department will be Sunday, August 13th.
“Working for NFD is such a unique experience because you get to do so many things as a firefighter that you don’t necessarily get to do or see in other places,” Mitchell told the Current. “Sometimes you’re at a major incident with only a handful of people so you really rely on each other and so it builds a bond. Having that bond with the other firefighters is my greatest memory and what I’ll miss the most. Of course, also the community and the wonderful people of Nantucket and the way they stick together and supported me and my family over the past year. But it was time.”
Mitchell and his wife Allyson have purchased a home in Rutland, Mass., where they will relocate to with their three children this month. The move will bring them both closer to their families on the mainland.
But the decision to leave the island was not an easy one, Mitchell said, and there were several factors in play. While he had a stable rental on Nantucket, the housing crisis on the island certainly was one of those factors.
“Housing, obviously, is an issue on Nantucket, and for someone like me who is focused on my career as a firefighter and dedicated myself to that, there’s no hope of ever owning a home on Nantucket,” Mitchell said. “At the same time, we had secure housing, so it’s not like we were forced out and had no choice. If I was in a good place in my career and looking forward to going to work every day and continuing to dedicate myself, we may have stayed. But with everything that’s happened over the last year, it became clear it was time to move on.”
Mitchell was referring to the bitter chapter that played out last year over the selection of the island’s new fire chief.
Mitchell had already earned a reputation as a committed firefighter, family man, and community servant when he was thrust into the limelight in the aftermath of the Veranda House fire on July 9th, 2022. With former fire chief Steve Murphy sidelined due to shoulder surgery, it was Mitchell who took command of the fire scene and led Nantucket firefighters, along with more than a dozen firefighters from Cape Cod, in containing the blaze to just three structures in the thickly settled neighborhood. He was widely credited for his leadership in guiding a response that prevented a larger disaster in the downtown area. As Murphy was preparing to retire last September, Mitchell’s performance during the blaze and his 16-year career with NFD prompted many to assume he would be the one selected by the town to lead the department following Murphy's retirement.
But Mitchell was not the town’s choice for the job. He wasn’t even among the finalists for the position. He discovered he was out of the running for the job when he was forwarded a Cape and Islands fire chiefs’ newsletter, which mentioned the Nantucket fire chief search was down to three finalists. The situation has prompted an outcry from community members and the firefighters’ union, Local 2509, who urged the town to reconsider its decision and choose Mitchell for the job. A social media campaign - including an online petition - was circulating, along with letters and e-mails to the town administration seeking to have Mitchell named as the island’s next fire chief. But after a contentious Select Board meeting, the town offered a contract to current fire chief Michael Cranson.
“I love the Nantucket Fire Department and everyone who works there and I will miss that, but I will not miss working for the town of Nantucket,” Mitchell said of the episode. Over the past year since the Veranda House fire, Mitchell said the town administration had done little to change his mind.
“I don’t think anything is going to change until there’s a change in leadership,” Mitchell said.
In his new role with Massport Fire Rescue, Mitchell will be serving as a firefighter/EMT with the agency that covers Logan Airport, as well as the Worcester Regional Airport and the Hanscom Field airport in Bedford, Mass.
“Luckily I was able to find a really great opportunity,” he said. “I want to thank the firefighters and the community for supporting me and my family throughout my whole career but especially over the past year.”