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Selectmen Choose Wright For Sharon Fire Chief

Athol Fire Chief James Wright expects to start here in September.

Athol Fire Chief James Wright likely will become Sharon's new fire chief.

Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to offer the job to Wright, their five-member screening committee's top-ranked candidate among three finalists. Middleboro Fire Chief Lance Benjamino and Portsmouth, R.I. Fire Chief Jeffrey Lynch were the others.

"You have to have some faith in the selection process," Chairman Richard Powell said.

Coincidentally, Wright was at the on Tuesday night, although he did not watch the vote.

He said he saw the fire chief discussion on the board's agenda but "had no idea what the outcome was going to be."

Wright said he expects to start work in September.

"I'm excited," said Wright, who has been fire chief in his hometown of Athol, a mill town in North Central Mass., since March 1997.

Selectmen voted to offer Wright the job pending final authorization of references. The board also authorized Town Administrator Benjamin Puritz to negotiate a contract with Wright that includes a residency requirement.

Afterward, Puritz said he expects to have that contract for selectmen's approval Aug. 23, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Fire Chief Dennis Mann retired here April 8. He served more than 30 years on the department, and was about one month into his 14th year as chief when he retired. Mann is serving as interim chief until his successor takes over.

Selectmen said all three finalists impressed them.

"We had three very strong candidates. Really, any of them would serve the town well," Powell said.

"It's a good problem to have."

However, Selectman William Heitin noted only Benjamino publicly declined to move here if offered the job.

Selectman Walter "Joe" Roach Jr., whose father was a Sharon fire chief, said he wanted a fire chief who would "not only be a strong fire chief but also somebody who would be a member of the community."

During his July 19 interview, Wright told selectmen he also serves on Athol's Salvation Army Advisory Board and its Boy Scout Troop Committee. He is an Eagle scout.

This was Sharon's second fire chief search this year, drawing a total of 90 to 100 candidates, about 10 of whom applied both times, Puritz said. The initial search, this winter, drew 60 candidates.

However, selectmen re-opened the search -- with Sharon residency preferred rather than waivable -- after : Walpole Deputy Fire Chief Michael Laracy and Pinkerton Government Services Fire Department Fire Chief and Vice President James Brakebill of California.

Selectmen said Brakebill withdrew for family reasons. Laracy declined to be a finalist in the new search.

Heitin said the candidates during the second search "really proved we had to go through the process a second time."

Selectmen voted to send the screening committee members a letter of thanks for their work.

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