BRATTLEBORO — When Capt. Charles “Chuck” Keir III first joined the Brattleboro Fire Department about 20 years ago, Assistant Fire Chief Len Howard was his immediate supervisor.
“So we’ve had a pretty unique relationship, moving all the way forward,” Keir said. “He has a really positive direction he’s going to move the department in. I really look forward to that collaborative effort.”
On Friday, Keir was picked as the next assistant fire chief. Howard was previously selected to be Chief Mike Bucossi’s successor starting April 1 as Bucossi is set to retire.
Bucossi’s 43 years of service “is quite incredible,” Keir said, noting the chief’s love for the town and passion for the work.
Howard called his experience as assistant fire chief “very good.”
“It’s helped me grow over the last four-and-a-half years,” he said, having started in September 2016. “I think I’ve prepared myself to lead the department.”
Howard joined the department’s call force in 1987 and career staff in 1997. After being promoted to lieutenant, he strove to become captain then assistant chief.
He anticipates his team will be busy with training, as there will be five firefighters who will be new to the department. Two are currently in a probationary period and three need to be hired.
Howard said he and Keir have some ideas about updating the department’s philosophy.
“Everything is good apparently but it never hurts the department to always improve and that’s what we’ll do,” Howard said, planning to look at the department’s core values and mission statement to attract more diverse candidates.
He noted the department hired its first woman firefighter in about 20 years.
“She’s doing well and we hope to continue to attract more,” he said.
When the assistant chief position was posted, two of three eligible captains applied. They interviewed with Howard, Town Manager Peter Elwell and Town Human Resources Director Sally Nix on Friday.
“They both were very solid candidates,” Howard said.
All five lieutenants have expressed interest in becoming captains. And with the recent retirement of Lt. Dan Hiner, the department will be looking to fill that position as well.
Howard said it’s “a big transition” and he believes “we’ve got great people who work for the department.” He plans to look at day-to-day operations and implement new exercises aimed at improving the mental and physical health of staff.
Bucossi “taught me a lot,” Howard said. “He showed me how to step back and look at the big picture, take it step by step.”
Bucossi also advised Howard on how to listen to people and get input but also make quick decisions.
“That’s what I look forward to carrying on,” Howard said.
Keir was promoted to captain in July 2017. He said he’s enjoyed working on the department since his start in 2001 and every step has given him an opportunity to grow.
Over the years, Keir has learned more about the town and his fellow staff. He described finding ways to better motivate the other firefighters and make the working environment more meaningful, not just for the employees but also for the community.
Much of his focus will now be on assisting with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The department recently started fully running its inspection program and hanging banners on Main Street for groups in the community again after the pandemic put these activities on pause.
Other work will entail staff helping at vaccination sites, performing inspections or occupancy reviews for businesses, and educating about fire prevention. Howard and Keir said they are looking forward to the future.