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Robinson asked to serve as interim chief of TNFD

September 25, 2013
NORTHFIELD — With the impending departure of yet another fire chief for the Tilton-Northfield Fire District, commissioners last week named current Deputy Chief Mike Robinson the acting chief and Capt. Tim Joubert the acting deputy chief, effective Oct. 18 when current chief Brad Ober departs for a new job as deputy fire chief in Gilford.

Ober was promoted to his job as chief of TNFD in December of 2010 after then chief Steve Carrier also took a position as deputy chief of the Gilford Fire-Rescue Department. Carrier was later promoted to chief in Gilford when the position became available.

On Sept. 17, Ober attended the previously scheduled work session for the commission, which was changed into an emergency meeting, to personally deliver his resignation to the board.

Ober's resignation letter, a follow-up to the initial call he made on Sept. 11 to Chairman Paul Auger, stated that he had mixed emotions about his move from Tilton-Northfield to Gilford, but was grateful for his time in the district.

"I am thankful for the opportunities, experiences and support I have obtained from the residents of the district, the commissioners, and most importantly, the staff over these past eight and a half years," Ober wrote in his letter.

His final day, he concluded, will be Oct. 15, 2013, but he also promised to provide the district with a draft for the 2014 budget process before his departure. Ober said he would also continue his work on preparing the district's newest ladder truck for service before he moves on to his new position.

Before the decision on who would fill Ober's shoes in the interim was made, Robinson, who has stepped into this role before, told commissioners he would take on the challenge once again on a part time basis, but would encourage them to move quickly in their search for a new chief.

"Will I do it? Of course, but I will do it on my terms, and they're reasonable terms," Robinson said.

With a full time job outside his typical role as Deputy Chief for the fire department and a "new girl" in his life, a three-year-old granddaughter, Robinson said his time would be limited.

"We're going to give it a try, but it's got to be a team effort. You know my schedule. I'm not available from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m., and never on a Tuesday night, when my granddaughter is over. I'm going to do everything in my power not to interrupt that time with her," said Robinson.

Auger agreed that, not having a full time position with the district, Robinson was justified in his terms. He personally felt that bumping the deputy into the temporary position was not the only option, though, and wanted time to consider other avenues for filling the chief's vacancy.

"If we're going to come up with another alternative, that would be to your benefit," said Auger to Robinson.

Robinson and others from the department, however, voiced their concern that those "other options" would be to bring in an outside person as an interim chief, and they did not feel comfortable with that idea.

"From the perspective of the full time officers in the department, with over 50 years combined experience, we feel very strongly that every option in house should be exhausted," said Captain David Hall. "We will fight the commission if that doesn't happen."

Hall said the officers are also involved in the budget process each year and would do their best to maintain business as usual within the department until a permanent replacement could be found.

Robinson agreed.

He said that once he and others on the staff learned of Ober's pending resignation, they immediately began to formulate a plan for the future. With the assistance of fulltime Fire Prevention Capt. Tim Joubert and Administrative Secretary Kathy Tobine, he said, he and the rest of the department could make things work on a temporary basis.

"We're fire fighters. We handle emergencies very well," said Robinson. "We will endure, no question about it. I want Brad back, but will I do it if you ask? I will to the best of my abilities."

Commissioners then met for a half hour or more in a nonpublic session to discuss their options, after which they announced that they would like to have Robinson and Joubert lead the district as they search for a new chief.

Commissioner Pat Clark said he would arrange for a meeting with Municipal Resources, Inc. out of Meredith to discuss how they might assist in the new search since the Local Government Center, used in the last search for a fire chief, no longer performs those services.

Tilton Select Board Chair Pat Consentino was concerned about the expense of yet another hiring process, the last of which Commissioner Pat Clark estimated to be approximately $4,500.

Hiring MRI to do the initial search, Clark admitted, could cost more than that amount today, but he felt it was worth hearing from the company and getting their input before any final decision was made.

Commissioner Les Dolecal is a resident of Northfield, and served on that town's search committee for candidates for a new police chief in the town. She said that, with no cost to taxpayers, Northfield was able to go through resumes, testing and other details of the process to narrow down the search on their own. While the candidate they selected recently declined the offer and that search goes on, Dolecal felt it was an economical and common sense approach.

"After all, it's all about the people in the community and who's going to be served. I think it's an exciting process, and hope there's going to be some internal interest in the position, too," said Dolecal. "It's a good opportunity for some of these employees to even just go through the process."

Commissioners said the final decision on how the hiring process will take place will be made in the near future. A meeting this week with MRI was scheduled after this paper went to press.

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