Nantucket Fire Chief Search Drama Continues: Finalist Drops Out

Jason Graziadei •

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The search for the island’s next fire chief continued to be a tumultuous affair this week, as one of the finalists withdrew his name from consideration, while the town announced it was considering pursuing an interim chief, and the Nantucket fire union formally asked all outside candidates to “stand down” and refrain from applying.

The new developments come after two weeks of discord over the town’s elimination of Deputy Fire Chief Sean Mitchell from consideration for the job. Members of the community and the fire union have launched an informal campaign to lobby the town administration to reconsider that decision and appoint Mitchell as fire chief following his command of the Veranda House fire and his 16-year career with the Nantucket Fire Department. The situation reached an uncomfortable peak with the release of Mitchell’s critical letter to town manager Libby Gibson regarding the search process and the town’s apparent bid to let him back into the group of finalists.

Against that backdrop, one of the finalists for the Nantucket fire chief position, Chris Christopoulos, Jr. the fire chief and emergency management director for the city of Lebanon, New Hampshire, informed the town that he was withdrawing his name from consideration. Gibson said Christopoulos had withdrawn for health reasons, while Nantucket fire union president Jeff Allen told the Current it was due to the fact that he had not been informed there was an internal candidate for the job (presumably referring to Mitchell).

Meanwhile, the fire union – which had already issued a unanimous endorsement of Mitchell for the chief job – took the extraordinary step of issuing a “request to stand down” to other potential candidates. The letter was sent to the Professional Fire Firefighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), a statewide labor union organization.

“The Nantucket Firefighters E-Board, and the members of Local 2509, strongly believe that a qualified and worthy candidate is within the Nantucket Fire Department,” the letter states. “We request that members of the PFFM and outside departments should refrain from applying for the Fire Chief or Interim Fire Chief position for the Town of Nantucket.”

As that letter alludes to, the town is indeed exploring the possibility of hiring an interim fire chief in the event it has not named a permanent replacement for current fire chief Steve Murphy, who is set to retire in September.

“It is not unusual for an interim chief to be engaged to cover a gap between when a current chief leaves and a new chief starts,” Gibson said. “We are exploring that in the event that we do not have a new chief hired before Chief Murphy retires, which is the end of August.”

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