After a tumultuous winter that resulted in the departure of fire and EMS chief John Rose, Oak Bluffs has taken steps to restructure and rethink the town fire and EMS operation, tapping police chief Erik Blake and town administrator Bob Whritenour to develop administrative roles and foster department leadership.

But with the clock ticking on interim fire chief Martin Greene’s contract, which is set to expire Sept. 30, there still remains a long road ahead for a department in transition — including the looming dilemma of how to fill the leadership vacuum that Mr. Greene’s departure will leave at the department’s helm.

Mr. Greene, a veteran firefighter from Cape Cod, was hired as interim chief on April 6 after former chief John Rose resigned from the department under pressure this winter. Deputy chief Shawn Broadley also resigned in response to the turmoil. The department has long faced internal and external scrutiny, most recently with a sexual harassment settlement involving Mr. Rose and a subordinate, and an FBI probe involving EMS billing practices.

The department was previously restructured in 2017, when town leadership decided to split up the fire and EMS sides of the operation. Chief Rose remained the head of both sides of the department.

But after Mr. Rose’s departure this winter, selectmen and town officials have started to rethink the structure of the department again. At a selectman’s meeting two weeks ago, the board unanimously voted to have Mr. Whritenour work with Chief Blake in a six-month administrative role to propose how the town should proceed with department operations and the hiring a new permanent fire chief.

Chief Blake will temporarily handle administrative duties for the department, like management and budgeting, when Mr. Greene departs, Mr. Whritenour told the Gazette. The chief volunteered for the duties at a recent selectman’s meeting.

“We have some pretty significant administrative leadership in public safety in Chief Blake. He has a lot of experience dealing with management of personnel matters, collective bargaining, budgeting and capital,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We’re going to build on his administrative leadership to also stimulate leadership in the department.”

While Chief Blake takes the reigns on administrative duties, town officials plan to hire someone in another interim role to take over specific fire and EMS leadership. Chief Blake is not a trained fire or EMS official. Manny Rose was promoted to deputy fire chief earlier this summer, while the highest ranking member of the EMS staff is Lieut. Matt Bradley.

Chief Blake acknowledged the need to have a day-to-day safety officer while he works with Mr. Whritenour, and hinted that the town could be interested in looking for leadership from inside the department at the meeting two weeks ago.

“I’m not a fire scene person,” Chief Blake said. “I would be working with Bob to identify someone in house that’s able to do fire prevention. I don’t think that’s an arduous task to find someone, it can be done. There’s a lot of talent in the fire department and I want to see if we can tap into that talent and mentor them into leadership roles.”

The decision to use Chief Blake came after Oak Bluffs formulated three different scenarios for the fire and EMS departments after the expiration of Chief Greene’s contract. One would break the fire and EMS departments into two separate entities with two chiefs leading each department. A second scenario would be similar to what Oak Bluffs has had in the past, with a singular fire and EMS chief who would split duties between the two departments. A third scenario would create a director in an administrative position at the top of both departments with a fire chief and EMS captain below them.

At the meeting, selectmen did not want to immediately choose one scenario over the others because there was no consensus within the department about best option. Selectman Brian Packish said he had spoken with senior members of the fire and EMS departments and his takeaway was that it would be best in the short term to go with a version of the third scenario, giving time to thoroughly vet leadership roles.

“It’s clear we need to hire a few positions, I think it would be unhealthy if we try to hire all those positions at one time,” Mr. Packish said. “I think we would be better served if we started with a hybrid of [the third scenario] with an administrator and safety officer for a six-month window while we work diligently through the next steps as a board with the fire and EMS departments.”

Mr. Whritenour said he and Chief Blake plan to present a more fully developed plan to the selectmen at a future meeting. He too suggested that leadership for the department could come from the inside.

“It’s going to be working with the EMS and fire folks to bring the resources we need to manage them, and to try to get prepared for what the next department situation is going to look like,” the town administrator said. “We have some very talented professionals that work for us and we’re very fortunate to have them. A lot of what we’re going to do now is invest ourselves into the organization and development of that so those folks will be prepared [for leadership roles].”