News

Amherst firefighters ask selectmen to make Conley chief

Thursday, May 8, 2014

By KATHY CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

AMHERST – Firefighters, including outgoing Chief Mark Boynton, have strongly urged Amherst selectmen to drop the search for a new fire chief and give the job to Deputy Chief Matt Conley.

Boynton, who is leaving to become chief in Townsend, Mass., will have his last day with the Amherst department on May 13.

At the April 28 selectmen’s meeting, Boynton said Conley will maintain the department’s current record membership and high morale.

Noting the next chief will be the fourth in 10 years, Boynton said his deputy has been “the one constant and voice of reason that has kept this department together and moving forward.

“I ask you to take under consideration the uncertainty and turmoil of the Amherst Fire Department over the past 10 years,” he said.

Looking outside the department “is not only unnecessary,” the chief said, it would be detrimental to the fire department.

When they hired the last three police chiefs, he said, selectmen did not have a recruitment and hiring process and hired from within, and should do the same for the fire department.

Boynton called Conley’s performance “stellar” and said his deputy’s critics are all former members of the Amherst Fire Department who have “left the department under unfavorable terms and will predictably tell you he lacks the skills and education” to be chief.

Reading from a letter to the board, Boynton said his deputy has the “knowledge, skills, leadership ability, qualifications and command presence” to be the next chief. “If you ask current members and honorary members, they will tell you when Conley had the rank of captain he had the courage and integrity to speak up … which led to the demise of these critics,” he said.

That night selectmen voted 4-0 to appoint Conley acting chief beginning May 14, but they did not comment on the request.

The board is looking at a possible merger of fire and ambulance services as a way to fill a gap in daytime weekday fire coverage, and Boynton said Conley, who has acted as emergency services director when Brian Gleason has been absent and is a veteran EMT, will be able to work with the town on that issue.

Eric Swenson, president of the Amherst Fire Department Association, said his membership overwhelmingly voted to support Conley. Swenson also read a letter to selectmen alluding to the “rise and fall in the ranks” of firefighters over the years and the department’s current stability and strong morale.

“We understand it’s the Board of Selectmen’s decision, but you don’t have to look far to find a capable, dedicated” chief, Swenson said. He was followed to the podium by several other firefighters who all said Conley has their support.

In a phone interview this week, selectmen’s Chairman Dwight Brew said the board will discuss the hiring issues at its next meeting on May 12.

He also said the issue of looking outside the department has nothing to do with Deputy Chief Conley, and the board might use a consultant to help it decide how to get optimum delivery of fire and ambulance services.

“We will certainly look at strong internal candidates,” he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.

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