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Hopkinton selectmen close to hiring new fire chief

HOPKINTON - The town is close to hiring a new fire chief, but plans to renovate the old Contoocook station or build a new one won't be on the table at town meeting this year.

Jim O'Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen, said a committee including firefighters, local fire chiefs from surrounding communities, Town Administrator Neal Cass and Police Chief Stephen Pecora have sifted through the pool of more than 50 applicants for the position of fire chief. The group then interviewed the top five or six finalists and have referred the top two or three to the board of selectmen.

"Next week we'll interview those final candidates and we hope that by the end of the week, we'll have a new fire chief," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said there will have to be an offer and acceptance by the chosen applicant and negotiations over salary and benefits, but the hope is to have the new chief on board by the end of February or beginning of March.

In September, the town lost its first full-time fire chief when Rick Schaefer suffered fatal cardiac arrest while on the job. Schaefer had held the position of chief since 1999 and had been a member of the department for 32 years.

Shortly after Schaefer's death, the board promoted Deputy Chief Jeff Yale, a 20-year veteran of the department, to the position of interim chief.

O'Brien said that Yale has helped make the search for a new chief less stressful.

"He's been doing a great job and really stepped up," said O'Brien. "The department is running well, so if it takes another month for us to have a chief in place, we'll be OK."

In the meantime, the town is still studying the future of the main fire house in Contoocook and won't be putting any proposals before the taxpayers for renovations or a new station this year.

"At last year's town meeting we asked for $25,000 to conduct a feasibility study to look at renovating the current station or possibly building a new on near the site of the old highway garage," said O'Brien.

The town hired an architectural firm to do the study, but more information is needed before making a decision about how to proceed. The board may ask for more funding for continued study at town meeting in March, and plans to make a presentation about what has been learned so far, but O'Brien said there won't be a proposal for renovations or a new building at least until 2014.

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