HARVARD — A five-member fire chief search committee that included the town administrator, a department officer and the interim fire chief reviewed 20 applications for the full-time job and narrowed the field to five applicants who were then interviewed by a panel of fire chiefs and the Harvard police chief.
The three finalists the panel recommended were interviewed by selectmen at their meeting Tuesday night. They are: Joseph LeBlanc of Lunenburg, Stephen Slarsky of Ayer, and Richard Sicard of Ashburnham.
Selectmen asked each candidate the same questions, with 30 minutes for each interview.
A firefighter since 1980, LeBlanc began his career as an on-call firefighter in Lunenburg. He is now deputy fire chief at Devens and has been with the department since 1990.
He holds numerous certifications and has been involved in “a number of incidents” at Devens, where he has supervised a 28-person staff.
Slarsky has lived in Ayer for 57 years, with a family history that dates back many years in the town. Married for 34 years, he has three grown daughters; the youngest will graduate from college this year. An Ayer firefighter since he was 18 years old, he was promoted to lieutenant in 1980 and captain in 1998. “I always look for leadership positions,” he said.
Sicard is the youngest of the three finalists, although nobody asked about age. He’s been in the fire service for 22 years, serving on all-call and combination departments like Ashburnham’s, with four full-time firefighters, a full-time chief and paramedics. He has also worked for private businesses.
He is a self-employed carpenter and cited management experience as a business owner as a plus. He is president of the Ashburnham Firefighters Association, an active fundraising organization in town that vigorously promotes community awareness. “People look up to us,” he said.
Each candidate was asked why he had applied for the job in Harvard, what he planned to do during his first 90 days and where he hoped to be in three to five years.
The first two candidates’ answers didn’t differ much on the 90-day question. In various ways, they’d take in the territory, they said, categorize and analyze equipment and staff, make sure certifications were current and equipment was adequate, with tests up to date. Sicard said he’d meet with each firefighter and get a sense of how to best use their skills.
Each member had a specific list of questions.
Selectman Ron Ricci, for example, wanted to know what the candidate would do as chief if someone on his department went behind his back to complain to a town official. LeBlanc and Slarsky said such things would be out of their hands but they’d both try to create a department where that wouldn’t happen.
Sicard said he wouldn’t put up with it.
Selectman Marie Sobalvarro posed the three-to-five-year vision question. LeBlanc said he would hopefully be moving ahead with the department he works for. Slarsky said he’d be Harvard fire chief, if hired, with no plans to move on. The job would be the culmination of his career, he said.
Asked about Devens, Slarsky didn’t hesitate to give his opinion. It would be a huge job for Harvard and maybe more than the small town should take on, he said. The two communities are totally different, he said, and Harvard is not equipped to handle the commercial and industrial side of Devens’ fire safety requirements. However, if the town does assume responsibility, then as chief he’d do his job and the Fire Department would, too.
Sicard said it would be no problem.
All three candidates expressed confidence in their leadership and management skills. They have all mentored and supervised other firefighters and written or reviewed grant applications.
Asked about their job searches, LeBlanc said he applied to other departments besides Harvard. The other two candidates had not.
Slarsky said he applied for the fire chief’s job in Ayer, but he was called up for duty and withdrew. He’s in the medical Army Reserves, but would give that up if his new job called for it, he said. If he becomes fire chief,”I would be committed,” to the town of Harvard, he said.
Sicard said he’s been well trained by his chief to take over if necessary, but he’s ready for the top job now. This was the first opportunity that came up, he said
The selectmen did not discuss the interviews after the hearing closed and agreed to wait for the recommendation of firefighters who interviewed the candidates before choosing which one would get the fire chief’s job.
The selectmen will meet on May 12 at 9 a.m. at Town Hall to make a decision.