The largest fire department in Berkshire County has a new chief.
Mayor Linda Tyer announced the appointment of Deputy Chief Tom Sammons to be the new head of the Pittsfield Fire Department on Wednesday.
“It is a great honor that I accept the position as fire chief," said Sammons. "It is truly the pinnacle of my career to be here today to accept this. I have enjoyed 23 years moving up in the department through the ranks, and I owe it all to the great leaders who came before me who taught me how to lead and how to command a fire scene.”
Sammons, 50, fills the vacancy left by the retirement of chief Robert Czerwinski in July, who held the position for the past nine years.
Over the course of his career, Sammons has received multiple commendations.
“You receive a lifesaving award when you use a defibrillator and CPR on a person and they leave the hospital," said the new chief. "So, I have three of those.”
One of his top priorities for the department is mental health.
“We saw that critical incident stress debriefing was an issue in our department. We’ve had some tragedies in Pittsfield in recent years, and we were afraid it was affecting our personnel, the dispatchers, as well as our partners in the ambulance services," said Sammons. "So I worked with the people that are trained in this that we have in the department and wrote a policy that we all were comfortable with, that was recently implemented. Because like they all say, you don’t see the scars of emotional issues.”
Sammons said the move is line with an increased focus on personnel safety.
“We’ve instituted over the past couple of years trying to keep our gear, trying to keep our trucks and everything much cleaner because of the threat of cancer in the fire service is so prominent," said the chief. "When we used to – it was a sign of, that you’ve been around when all your gear was filthy, dirty from going into fires. And now, after every fire, everybody’s fighting to get their stuff in the – we have washing machines to wash our gear.”
The department has 96 line personnel between its headquarters and four satellite stations, with five engines and a ladder truck in service.
Tyer said that Sammons’ hiring came out of the assessment center process: candidates receive scores from examiners, which are in turn submitted to the civil service program. Three finalists interviewed for the job.
“We’ve modified the way we are using the civil service system, because it has some flaws, quite frankly,” said Tyer.
The mayor said that in Sammons, she found a leader whose style aligned with the values of her administration.
“A sense of shared responsibility to one another, asking how can we solve problems instead of just doing things the way we’ve always done them," said Tyer. "His time in the inspections bureau meant a lot to me in terms of understanding the challenges we face in an aging city with regard to vacancies and older housing stock, being able to understand how to lead the department knowing that we have a city of neighborhoods that can be, certainly, older.”
Following a wave of retirements, Sammons said he’s taking charge of a young department.
“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 in Pittsfield. Eventually they’ll end up going to the Mass Fire Academy – they’re in a slot to go, break them up in a couple groups – but it was kind of ironic that yesterday was my last day, and it was their first," he said. "We have a very young department. You can give them all kinds of stuff to read, but until their boots are in the street and they’re doing the job, is where the experience comes in. From what I’ve learned, experience is just as important as anything you get out of a book.”
Sammons’ appointment faces a formal city council vote September 10th. His starting salary is $112,000 a year.