Mayor Linda Tyer congratulates her new fire chief during a press briefing in her office on Wednesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thomas Sammons had a choice to make 23 years ago — join the police force at the University of Massachusetts or the Pittsfield Fire Department.
It wasn't a difficult decision, he said, even though he'd already earned his degree in criminal justice.
"Believe me, I love the police. And I love everything they do. But when it came right down to it, I didn't like the idea of every time I went somewhere, somebody was going to be lying to me," he smiled. "So I said, 'You know what, the fire service, they're always happy to see you.' And that was that, and I made the right choice."
Sammons right choice has led him to the top position in the Fire Department. On Wednesday morning, he was sworn as the fire chief of the 96-member force. His starting pay is $112,000.
"One of the things that inspired me about Chief Sammons is his dedication to pursuing training and leadership, he has come up through the ranks in the Fire Department and has reached this point in his career because of his dedication to leadership," said Mayor Linda Tyer. "And that's an impressive aspect of his resume. But I was also impressed when he talked with me about some policies that he wants to implement in the Fire Department, which he describes as a young department."
Sammons was one of three candidates selected through the assessment center process that Pittsfield adopted several years ago as a modification to Civil Service. The assessment score are sent to Civil Service, which then sends a ranked list of candidates.
"We conducted interviews with all three candidates," Tyer said. "Sammons was the candidate that was able to show a leadership style that aligns with the things that we're trying to accomplish here in this administration."
The 50-year-old Pittsfield native has spent 23 years as a career firefighter, with short stints as a reserve in North Adams and volunteer in Lanesborough. He's been awarded the LifeSaver Award three times for saving someone with the use of an automatic defibrillator, including one gentleman who collapsed at the fire station.
"It couldn't happen in a better place really," he said. "We shocked him, we got his rhythm straight. And he's with us still today."
His focus will be on leadership training and seeing to the physical and mental welfare of the men and women under his command who sometimes have to deal with horrific situations, such as the deaths of three young children in a fire earlier this year.
He wrote a recently implemented policy after conferring with personnel trained in debriefing procedures.
"We saw that critical incident stress debriefing was an issue in our department," Sammons said. "We've had some some tragedies in Pittsfield in recent years. And we were afraid of it was affecting our personnel, the dispatchers, as well as our partners in the ambulance services. ... That was something that I feel very strongly about is that we keep everybody healthy."
That includes ensuring personnel have the appropriate, clean, functioning and safe equipment. Over the past four years, Sammons had overseen the care of apparatus and he wants to continue the policy started by retired Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski of sending personnel to the state fire service academy.
"We're really working to modernize and advance the skills of our firefighters. ... that makes that makes for a more well-rounded firefighter," he said. "We are so far out west that we ran our own drill schools and it was a tough pill for the first group to swallow. But it's going to really help them in their careers later on."
Leadership will be important for what Sammons says is a "young" department. A wave of retirements and departures is bringing in new personnel and moving others into higher positions.
"Yesterday was my last 24-hour shift on the floor as a deputy chief. And it was the first day for a new group of 10 recruits that are in our training program here," he said. "We have a very young department. You can you can give them all kinds of stuff to read. But until their their boots are in the street, and they're doing their job, that's where the experience comes. From what I've learned, experience is just as important as anything you get out of a book."
The department includes an inspection bureau (a position Sammons also held), the main headquarters and four satellite stations, so five engines and a ladder truck are in service all the time. It also includes a high-angle team and the state's District 5 Hazardous Materials team.
Sammons said he really couldn't point out a singular event in his career, but rather the camaradie of the department is what he remembers most.
"You cannot get along one second, but as soon as the tone set, everybody works together," he said. "We all have a common goal. And we get the job done. And then we slap each other on the back at the end."
He will be introduced to the City Council at Tuesday's meeting, along with the officers who will be receiving promotions.
"This is an important milestone both for Chief Sammons and for the city of Pittsfield," said Tyer. "So we want to make sure that we celebrate that in a ceremonial way on Tuesday night."
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