LEE — With the current part-time fire chief retiring, town officials are considering whether now is the time to have a full-time person to lead the Lee Fire Department.
The Board of Selectmen last week named an eight-member fire chief study committee, including three veteran Lee firefighters, to recommend whether a full-timer should succeed Fire Chief Alan Sparks, who earlier this year announced his retirement. He officially steps down by Jan. 1 after nearly six years as the chief — 49 years overall with the department.
There's no timeline for a committee recommendation, but Town Administrator Robert Nason hopes it can be done well before Sparks retires. Should Lee pursue a full-time chief, a special town meeting would have to approve approximately $26,000 toward a salary pro-rated to the final six months of the fiscal year.
Sparks earns an annual stipend of $18,500; town officials expect a full-time chief to cost taxpayers close to $70,000 a year.
Selectmen Chairman Thomas Wickham says Sparks' pending departure is an opportunity to explore a full-time chief and get a recommendation of whether to have one on the record.
"What we want is the best fire department in town," he said.
A full-time chief has had mixed reviews among the firefighters, according to Peter Sorrentino.
"Most would like to see things stay the same ... others are for it," he said.
The study group is composed of firefighters Sorrentino, Bill Brunell and Ed North, along with Selectwoman Patricia Carlino, Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa, Matthew Tyer of the Lee Volunteer Ambulance Service, former state building inspector and Selectman Gordon Bailey, and town resident Neil Clarke.
Formation of the ad hoc group grew out of annual town meeting debate in May over proposed funding for a full-time chief for the last six months of fiscal 2017, which begins July 1. Town meeting representative and South Lee Fire Station member Bill Brunell was among those calling for a fire chief study committee, believing the town was rushing into the concept of a full-time chief. The representatives voted to nix the $26,000 proposed toward paying a full-time chief from January through June 30.
Town Administrator Robert Nason has pointed out the state has emphasized improved fire prevention, inspections and training through the chief's position. As a part-timer, Sparks can't keep up with all the required inspections per the Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code.
North noted any of the rank and file certified to do inspections could pick up the slack.
"We've had five [fire] officers willing to do it and anyone else who takes [and passes] the test," he said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.