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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

County Mayor Stephen Chambers has announced Ken Buckmaster as his choice to be the permanent fire chief of the Hartsville/Trousdale Volunteer Fire Department.

However, questions have been raised with regards to the interview process after it became known that Buckmaster listed two members of the interview panel as references on his application for the position.

The four-person interview panel consisted of Chambers, Lafayette Fire Chief Troy Brawner, Carthage Fire Chief Joe Hiett and Wilson County Fire Chief Jeremy Hobbs.

UT’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) selected the outside chiefs at the request of the mayor’s office.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

MTAS Fire Management Consultant Steve Cross, who developed the interview process for Trousdale County, said there should have been no conflict of interest.

“Even though they were still listed that way, they still would have had to influence the other two to grade a certain way. To me, it wouldn’t be a concern,” he said.

Cross said the applications and résumés were not part of the interview process and were not factored into the scoring of the three candidates. He is scheduled to make a presentation to the County Commission at its March 16 work session on the interview process and results.

“I’m going to recap the selection process that we did… and then answer any questions they or the public have,” he said.

The three applicants – Buckmaster, Jay Woodard and Jeremy Barnes – were interviewed separately and rated based on their answers to structured questions and on their vision for Trousdale County’s fire department.

Asked if the presence of two interviewers as references for one of the candidates was a conflict of interest, Chambers said, “First of all, it was all done through MTAS as requested by the Emergency Services Committee. It was brought up and both fire chiefs said they didn’t care who was on it; they were going to pick the best candidate.

“I sat in, did some of the greeting along with the fire chiefs and added two questions that all three candidates were asked. They were asked ‘What’s your plan for the fire department going forward?’ and ‘What would you see accomplishing in the first 90 days if you were to get the position?’ ”

Buckmaster added that his references were based on his experience as a member of HTVFD.

“If you apply for a position with a fire department, you put references that are affiliated with fire service. That would be chiefs from the surrounding counties.”

 

Rating the candidates

The Vidette obtained all three applications, which showed that Buckmaster listed both Brawner and Hiett as references. Buckmaster has been with the HTVFD since 2007 and is currently the department’s assistant chief. In his capacity as a HTVFD firefighter, he has worked and trained with both Brawner and Hiett previously.

Woodard, who has 25 years’ experience with the Nashville Fire Department and currently holds the rank of captain there, said he felt the interview process was a fair one.

“It seemed like it was a good interview and process with the chiefs there from surrounding counties,” Woodard said.

Barnes disagreed, saying he felt the interviewers had made up their minds beforehand.

“When we go in for an interview for a fire chief’s job and there’s not one question to figure out how much I know about firefighting, that’s kind of awkward,” he said. “It was a subjective interview with questions like, ‘How does your education help you be a fire chief?’ or “How well can you recruit?’ ”

Buckmaster said he did not know who was conducting the interviews until the day of his interview.

“I didn’t have any idea who the interviewers were going to be. I was under the impression it was going to be MTAS,” Buckmaster said.

Chambers said the presence of the two interviewers as references was mentioned during the interview process. However, both Hiett and Brawner told The Vidette the matter was never brought up. Each said they had no idea he had been listed one of Buckmaster’s references, with Brawner saying he was unaware until being contacted by The Vidette.

“I didn’t know who the applicants were until the day of the interviews,” Hiett said. “It didn’t shock me that he did (list me as a reference) but I didn’t know he did.”

Hiett added that his ties to Buckmaster “played no part in my decision” and that he also knew one of the other applicants.

“I would have handled it the exact same way,” Brawner added. “I didn’t go into it thinking who was going to get it.”

Chambers has said he will nominate Buckmaster at the next County Commission meeting on March 23. The nomination is subject to the Commission’s approval.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]