N.H. town board reverses decision, renews chief's contract for 1 year

"There was a lot of support for my continuation here. I would really like to thank all the people that put the support forward," said Fire Chief Bill Gould


Ryan Spencer
The Keene Sentinel

SWANZEY, N.H. — Fire Chief Bill Gould signed a new one-year contract with the town Monday after what he and Town Administrator Michael Branley in a joint phone interview called a constructive dialogue with the select board.

The board had drawn heat from firefighters and pushback from some residents when it announced last month that it would not renew Gould's employment when his current contract expired at the end of the year.

"The board and the chief have had a lot of really productive conversations over the last week," Branley said. "Everyone acknowledged things that we could have handled better and committed to working more collaboratively."

Bill Hutwelker, chair of the select board, did not return a request for comment Monday. Hutwelker previously said that the decision not to renew Gould's contract stemmed from differences in vision for the department, but had declined to expand on that statement because the board had discussed the matter in nonpublic session.

Gould had said the select board notified him of its decision not to renew his contract in a letter dated Oct. 5, but that he wasn't given a reason. Hutwelker previously declined to say whether that decision was unanimous, again citing the fact that the vote happened in nonpublic session.

Gould, who spent 30 years as a career firefighter in New Haven, Conn., before becoming the Swanzey fire chief in March 2020, said he is happy the board has decided to allow him to continue his work as chief.

"There was a lot of support for my continuation here. I would really like to thank all the people that put the support forward, including the select board, including Michael," he said. "We went back and talked and came up with some really good ideas that put this forward and put me back in this position."

After the board announced last month it would not renew Gould's contract, many of the seven Swanzey firefighters who spoke to The Sentinel described the fire department as a family under Gould and said he fosters teamwork. Others said the fire chief — who, according to his résumé, rose to the rank of deputy chief in New Haven before retiring in 2018 — brought professionalism and improved training opportunities to the department.

Several of the firefighters also described a long-standing divide between the Swanzey Fire Department's station 2, which is located under town hall, and stations 1 and 3, saying they believed that played into the select board's original decision.

Branley said Monday that one of the challenges for Gould was that he came from a professional fire department to a small town department that relies almost entirely on volunteers. That difference in the environment, he said, took some getting used to.

Gould agreed he could have done better communicating with the department as a whole. Moving forward, he said he plans to meet with each of the department's members individually.

"As far as managing personnel, it is different because you have professional civilians that are part-time firefighters instead of professional firefighters that are part-time civilians," Gould said.

The Swanzey Fire Department has between 35 and 40 members, according to Branley. The chief and fire-inspector positions are full-time, and there are two permanent part-time positions as well, he said, but other than per-diem pay for weekend shifts, the department relies on volunteers.

With several projects still underway — such as the planned installation of an extractor, a machine that washes firefighters' gear to remove contaminants and carcinogens, at station 3 — Gould said he has a lot of work ahead of him.

"I'm happy to be able to continue working," he said. "We have some projects coming down the pike that I want to see through and I want to continue working and keep progressing."

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(c)2022 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

Visit The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) at www.sentinelsource.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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