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Select Board unanimously selects Daugherty as town’s fire chief

by | Jan 2, 2024 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

Gary Daugherty

Gary Daugherty Jr. interviews before the Select Board at Tuesday’s meeting. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

The Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night unanimously chose interim Fire Chief Gary Daugherty Jr. as the town’s permanent chief.

Board members interviewed Daugherty and fellow finalist John W. Ignatowicz, the current acting fire chief in Pelham, New Hampshire, for the position. While both candidates have similar histories of lengthy service to their respective departments and taking on leadership roles, Daugherty was chosen because he could hit the ground running.

Daugherty’s budgetary experience as a Select Board member in another town was seen as an asset. His grant writing skills, collaboration with other town departments and fire departments, and team approach gave him the edge. Members also cited his work with Eversource to help alleviate community concerns about the liquefied natural gas facility on Wilson Street as important to continue.

“What has prepared me for this is being here 20 years,” said Daugherty.

Interviews reveal similarities in service, leadership style

Before the interviews began, Select Board chair Muriel Kramer described the process leading to the selection of the two finalists. A consultant, Community Paradigm Associates, was hired to put out the advertisement and screen initial applicants for the job.

Over the past several months, the Fire Chief Selection Committee whittled down the candidates from 11 to eight. After being interviewed by the committee, four were selected to be evaluated at an assessment center. Daugherty and Ignatowicz received high scores and were chosen as finalists.

In his interview with the Select Board, Ignatowicz stressed that he has devoted his entire career to his current department. He was inspired at a young age by watching the television show “Emergency” and serving in the Boy Scouts of America Exploring Program.

He spoke about how he assumed leadership roles in Pelham, first as acting deputy chief and then as acting fire chief when the current chief sustained an injury on the job. While Pelham is similar in many respects, Hopkinton’s department is busier and would offer him more opportunities for growth.

Ignatowicz used the metaphor of an iceberg to describe a fire department. While the public is aware of what happens during emergencies, its inner workings remain below the surface. He stressed connection with residents and learning from colleagues in the department and town government as priorities. He described his leadership style as “adaptive” because it acknowledges individual needs and said communication often can resolve issues before they become problems.

“Relationships are so easy to form,” he said. “It amazes me that some people don’t understand that.”

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch asked about the biggest challenge Ignatowicz faced in his career. He noted that it was stepping up to fill the acting chief’s role at the start of budget season. He was able to successfully navigate the budget process, getting the approval of a nearly $3.2 million budget while also performing other administrative duties and shift work in the field.

Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah stressed that a emergency management plan for the LNG facility needs to be a top priority, as the plant is the largest “east of the Mississippi.”

Like Ignatowicz, Daugherty has more than two decades of experience with his department. He first served as a firefighter in the Air Force, before being honorably discharged. He said he valued communication and working collaboratively with his team and town officials.

What bolstered Daugherty’s candidacy was his extensive knowledge of Hopkinton and the issues it faces. He acknowledged the need for a second fire station to serve the town’s swelling population. This process should advance now that the town has a procurement and grants manager, he said.

Achievements he highlighted since he became acting chief included producing an LNG response program for the department and responding to two major fires, including the Easter morning fire, when two people died. This fire prompted him to seek and win grant funding for a smoke detector distribution program because the couple had no working smoke detectors in their home.

Daugherty’s work as acting chief set him apart

What impressed Select Board members was not only what Daugherty has achieved during his tenure but also his knowledge of governmental and budgetary processes. Having served as a Select Board member in his town, he spoke of his familiarity with budgets and grant writing. He served during a time when an employee brought a lawsuit against the town, which has been ongoing since 2018.

In his interview, Daugherty stressed that the department thrives on teamwork and will retain employees by treating them well. He said he has served in every department role except for fire prevention, giving him a unique perspective. This is the first time the department has been fully staffed in 20 years.

He praised fellow firefighters for taking courses and said he would support any opportunities for learning that were financially feasible for them to pursue. He noted that the department received a governor’s citation for meritorious conduct from Gov. Maura Healey in November. Daugherty said a firefighter will be speaking at an upcoming national event about smoke detector systems.

Taking the needs of female firefighters into consideration was one area where Daugherty shined. He has sought uniforms tailored for women and made of cotton when female firefighters spoke about how uncomfortable traditional uniforms are. He is supporting patch initiatives to support LGBTQ pride in June and breast cancer awareness in October after staff brought the idea to his attention.

Since the June meeting regarding the LNG facility, Daugherty said he has been working with Eversource and conducting monthly trainings with its employees to improve the lines of communication. He also has stepped up the department’s presence in the Legacy Farms neighborhood, “which did a lot to make the residents feel safe.”

Stressed Daugherty: “I just want you to know that every decision I make is for the town.”

After some discussion where both candidates were praised for their leadership abilities and poise during the interview process, Select Board members agreed that Daugherty was the right choice for this period of growth in Hopkinton.

“I like the details that Gary provided in all the questions … especially his knowledge about our issues, our challenges,” said vice chair Shahidul Mannan. “His relationship with the community and with the key stakeholders in the community stood out.”

After the meeting, Kramer said both candidates were stellar, but Daugherty is the right choice for the town now.

“I am so excited for Chief Daugherty, the department and for Hopkinton,” she said. “He is a tremendous asset. He has conducted himself throughout this whole process with incredible professionalism. He has some good ideas, and I am really excited about the future of the Fire Department in Hopkinton.”

What impressed her most was that Daugherty “has faced some really hard challenges and turned them into action steps.” She noted the smoke detector program and the LNG meeting as prime examples of his efforts.

The vote for approval is contingent upon a successful contract negotiation, which will be conducted by Town Manager Noman Khumalo and town counsel.

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