LEE — The town's first full-time fire chief could be on the job by year's end.
At a special town meeting on Oct. 27, residents will consider spending $25,000 to fund the public safety position for the last six months of fiscal 2017, which ends June 30.
The new chief, who will have added duties of overseeing the Lee Volunteer Ambulance Service, is expected to be hired before outgoing Fire Chief Alan Sparks retires Jan. 1.
Sparks, a who serves on a part-time basis, earns an annual stipend of $18,500; town officials hope to spend about $60,000 for the first full fiscal year of the chief's salary.
After just three meetings, an eight-member fire chief study committee last month voted 6-2 to recommend the Select Board ask town meeting representatives to back the measure. The study group was composed of veteran firefighters Peter 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.
A full-time fire chief was initially proposed and eventually tabled at the annual town meeting in May.
The representatives felt the town was rushing into the concept of a full-time chief and urged the Select Board to appoint a study group.
All three selectmen support the fire chief/ambulance director job, a combination they say will improve the efficiency and leadership of both the Lee Fire Department and ambulance service.
"It's an idea whose time has come to fruition," said Selectman David Consolati. "We're not always going to get guys who have retired to become chief."
As one of the two dissenters on the study committee, Sorrentino felt the dual position was premature.
"I think we need to keep fire and ambulance separate, until the ambulance [squad] is straightened out," he said.
The ambulance service is currently trying to improve its collection of overdue bills from ambulance calls, some dating back several years. The emergency medical service is also still in its infancy of providing around-the-clock paramedic service.
Sparks earlier this year announced he was stepping down after six years as fire chief — 49 years overall as a Lee firefighter. In March, Lisa Michaud also resigned as the ambulance director, but has agreed to stay in that role for a few hours each week until the position was filled or combined with the chief's duties.
Carlino said the dual position makes sense, in part, because the main fire station and ambulance building are next to each other on Main Street.
"It definitely will help with the coordination fire and ambulance," she said. "Our town is not growing in population, but our business and tourist activity is growing."
The fire chief's duties alone have increased in recent years, according to municipal officials. 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.
Sorrentino believes a part-time chief and officers could, together, handle the workload.
"We also don't need a full-time chief because we don't handle enough [emergency] calls," he said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233.