CHATHAM – Peter Connick will become chief of a fire department that, it could be argued, is at the top of its game.
With a long-awaited new fire station opened last year, a new ladder truck parked in one of its bays and two new engines on the way, and a full staff, “frankly, we're at a really good place now,” said Connick.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith announced Connick's appointment in a memo to the board of selectmen Wednesday. Connick first joined the department in 1979 and has been deputy chief since 2011. He becomes the first member of the department to work his way up through the ranks to become chief since Chatham established a professional fire and rescue department in the 1960s.
Under the town's charter, the appointment is provisional and becomes effective 15 days after the notification unless a majority of the board votes to reject it within that time. Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens said he believes Connick has the support of the full board.
“I am thrilled that we are promoting one of our own to be our new fire chief,” Dykens said. “Pete Connick has been a loyal, dedicated employee for many years. He is extremely well qualified. I look forward to working closely with him going forward.”
Connick will succeed Fire Chief Michael Ambriscoe, who retires at the end of the month after 12 years as chief, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 65.
“He's going to do well,” Ambriscoe said of Connick, whose appointment he “absolutely” supports.
Connick, 61, was the “candidate of choice” following among two candidates who applied from within the department, Goldsmith said in her memo to selectmen. Both were interviewed by a panel that included former Selectman David Whitcomb, Rockland Fire Chief Scot Duffy, Chatham resident and Eastham Police Chief Edward Kulhawik, and Human Resources Director Jillian Douglass. Connick was their unanimous recommendation.
“Mr. Connick is well known to the community, has exceeded my expectations in his performance as deputy fire chief and is the candidate of choice after an internal search was conducted,” Goldsmith wrote.
Originally from Wellfleet, Connick began his career as a firefighter in his hometown in 1973. He took one of the first EMT classes ever held on the Cape and soon became a paramedic. Soon after he joined the Chatham department he began teaching EMT classes and still teaches at Cape Cod Community College.
He foresees a smooth transition, explaining that Chief Ambriscoe was open about training him to “do what he does.” There is a lot of cross-training within the department so that staff members can assume duties that need to be performed, a policy he said he'll continue. That also means that when positions become available, such as the deputy's job, internal candidates have the knowledge to qualify.
The department is “in a good place,” Connick said, with “nothing really hanging out there that's an enormous priority.” Overtime is often an issue with the finance committee and some members of the board of selectmen, but that's driven largely by the calls that the department receives, and with the current staffing levels, overtime actually amounts to less than the cost of hiring new firefighters due to the cost of benefits, he said.
“Fortunately, we have people willing to work overtime,” he said. “People come back when we need them.”
For years the number of calls to the department was climbing, but those numbers seem to have leveled out. The vast majority of runs are for medical calls, and those numbers were down slightly last year, Connick said.
“I think we've plateaued, at least for a little while,” he said.
The increase in medical runs is one of the biggest changes Connick said he's seen since he began with the department. The number of calls for fires and other emergencies have dropped, which he at least partially attributes to smoke detector requirements and other building code upgrades, enforced by the department's fire inspectors.
Even this time of year, Connick said, there's little down time at the department. Training and apparatus maintenance and checks fill in between calls, as does upkeep of the station, much of which is done by on-duty personnel.
“There's a lot of pride in this building,” he said of the new headquarters. “We waited a long time for the building, and we take good care of it.”
The department also just graduated the first citizens' fire academy class, which Connick said was “an enormous success.” It was the type of program that couldn't be done in the previous station due to space limitations, and it's one he plans to continue.
With a new station and new equipment, morale at the department is high right now, said Ambriscoe, and he too sees a smooth transition.
Becoming chief has been a goal “at times” over the course of his career, Connick said, adding he's “very happy” with the appointment, which gives him the opportunity to “finish the climb and go out at the top.”
The Chatham Firefighters Association will hold a reception for Ambriscoe on March 31, his last day on the job, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Depot Road station. Connick will be sworn in at 9 a.m.
Goldsmith plans to introduce Connick to the board of selectmen on April 4.