By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – At a special meeting on Feb. 4, the Board of Selectmen voted to hire two new firefighters to fill existing vacancies within the Fire Department.
Adam Hart and John Fitzgerald were unanimously chosen by the board to fill voids left by the January retirements of firefighters Tim Rogers and Russ Mitchell.
Hart and Fitzgerald were chosen from a large pool of applicants – 84, according to Fire Chief Francis Nothe – and were subject to an extensive vetting process before even interviewing before the selectmen.
“Myself, Capt. [David] Bussier and Capt. [Thomas] Shaw reviewed [the applications] separately, along with Town Administrator Bob Weitz and [Human Resources Director] Herta Dane,” Nothe said. “We each reviewed them separately and came up with a list of who we would like to interview, then came together and compared our lists and agreed upon eight candidates for interviews.”
The eight candidates, he continued, were interviewed by a panel that included the five who initially reviewed the applications, Police Capt. Timothy Kane and Fire Commissioner Ed Rigney.
Those interviews yielded five final candidates, but two withdrew their names from consideration on Feb. 3.
Hart, a 27-year-old firefighter currently employed with the Southwick Fire Department, is a native of the area, having graduated from Cathedral High School in 2005. After graduation, he enlisted in the Coast Guard.
Hart said he had a deep-rooted desire to be a firefighter dating back to his youth that grew as he got older.
“I always wanted to be in the fire service. I grew up down the street from the fire station, always loved the big red truck and thought it was a really cool thing,” he said. “As I gained an education and maturity, I found myself drawn toward public service. I had a lot of opportunities in the Coast Guard to do a lot of firefighting, public service and interaction with the public, which was really rewarding for me.”
Hart said the Wilbraham Fire Department was attractive to him because of its reputation as a professional and established department with a high retention rate.
“That speaks volumes to me. If people aren’t leaving, it has to be pretty good,” he said, adding that Wilbraham is a stable and fiscally responsible community.
In addition to firefighting and emergency medical technician (EMT) training and experience, he will be a certified paramedic in approximately one month and said in the Coast Guard he was part of a unit that regularly trained other guardsmen.
He is also researching degree programs in fire science.
Fitzgerald, also 27 years old, is from Monson, where he said he was first exposed to firefighting through the auxiliary program in his hometown’s Fire Department, an avenue suggested by a family friend, a former Monson and current Wilbraham firefighter.
He also completed a high school internship at the Palmer Fire Department.
Upon graduation from high school, while working as a mechanic, he went through the volunteer and call firefighter academy in Springfield and later became an EMT at which time he was offered a full-time position with the Monson Fire Department. While with the department, he achieved the next level of EMT training and is working toward becoming a certified paramedic.
In addition to his experience as a seasoned firefighter, he is a certified CPR instructor, overseeing all CPR and first aid training for the department.
“Wilbraham is an awesome department to work with,” he said. “I have worked closely with them through mutual aid calls and doing intercepted paramedic services. They’re great men and women to work with.”