Still under scrutiny to meet residency requirement, Tilton-Northfield fire chief quits to take #2 job in Gilford

GILFORD — For the second time in the past three years a chief has left the Tllton-Northfield Fire Department for the position of deputy chief in Gilford. Yesterday the Board of Fire Engineers here announced the appointment of Brad Ober, chief of the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department, as deputy chief of the Gilford Fire Department.

"I couldn't be more pleased," said Chief Stephen Carrier, for whom Ober served as a captain when he was chief of the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department before becoming deputy chief in Gilford in 2010. "Brad quickly rose to the top of our hiring process," Carrier said, adding that Ober will assume his duties on October 15..

Noting that Ober served as chief of the Ashland Fire Department before joining the Tilton-Northfield department, Carrier said that "his experience as a fire chief in two different communities and his extensive fire prevention background makes him tremendously valuable to our department and our community,"

Paul Auger of Northfield, who chairs the Tilton-Northfield Fire District Commission, said that the commissioners had yet to receive a formal letter from Ober tendering his resignation and declined to comment. Likewise, Commissioner Pat Clark only learned of Ober's appointment when it was announced by Carrier. He said he had "no idea" that Ober was seeking a position with another department, but added, "if this is an opportunity to advance his career and he will be happier somewhere else, I'm all for it and wish him the best."

However, Pat Consentino, who chairs the Tilton Board of Selectmen, called Ober's departure " a profound loss to this community, profound. Brad dedicated his career to our community with the utmost commitment and professionalism." She confessed herself "totally baffled" by the behavior of the Fire Commissioners, particularly Pat Clark, which she believes led to Ober's resignation. "Shame on them, shame on them," she said.

As chiefs of the Titlon-Northfield Fire Department both Carrier and Ober had trying relationships with the commission. Carrier found himself in the midst of a dispute between the two towns over the prospect of constructing a life-safety building to house the Tilton Police Department and elements of the Fire Department, which led the Northfield selectmen to force a vote to dissolve the fire district that was soundly rejected in 2010.

Ober's tenure as chief was dogged by his difficulties in complying with the commission's requirement that he establish residency within the district. Unable to sell his home in New Hampton, he rented an apartment in Tilton on the eve of the deadline on January 2 to avoid the risk of dismissal. But, the issue lingered, emerging again in June when, according to minutes of a commissioner's meeting, Clark said that "people have complained the chief is coming in to work from up north on a regular basis" and he "invited them to come into talk about it." Clark said that without a formal complaint it would remain a "non-issue," but, echoed by Commissioner Les Dolecal, recommended monitoring the mileage on the chief's car.

"I think that must have been the last straw," said Consentino.

Although the commission has not discussed the procedure for appointing a new chief, Auger said that he expected the residency requirement would be among the conditions of employment. "It was one of the biggest things last time," he remarked.