Oak Bluffs selectmen voted this week to appoint Chatham fire captain W. F. Nelson Wirtz as the new fire chief.

After finalist interviews with Mr. Wirtz, William Choate and Andrew Went, the selectmen reached their decision based on Mr. Wirtz’s experience working as a firefighter on Cape Cod, they said, his history as an instructor at the Barnstable County fire academy and his ability to bring fire training to the Island.

Selectmen agreed that all three finalists were superb but Mr. Wirtz won the support of the board 4-1.

Selectman Brian Packish cast the lone nay vote, saying he preferred Mr. Choate.

The search for a new chief officially began in January but the position had seen considerable turnover since the resignation of fire chief John Rose under pressure last winter. Manuel (Manny) Rose led the department for a short period, before the town hired former Bourne fire chief Marty Greene on a six-month, interim basis in March of 2020.

After Mr. Greene’s departure, the town tapped former Tisbury fire chief John Schilling and Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake to manage the firehouse. Mr. Schilling and Mr. Blake were on the search committee for the new chief.

Selectman Ryan Ruley said Mr. Wirtz’s background as an instructor was paramount.

“A lot of what we’ve heard through our in-depth dive at the fire department is the folks over there are looking for more training opportunities,” Mr. Ruley said. “I think that’s a benefit that to me is priceless.”

Selectman Greg Coogan added that Mr. Wirtz’ transition to Oak Bluffs would be the smoothest given his history on Cape Cod.

Mr. Wirtz described himself as a career firefighter since 1996. Prior to that, he was a call firefighter and EMT.

“The [Oak Bluffs] community is similar but different from the one I’ve been working in the past 26 years,” he said. “The vibrant waterfront, recreational and commercial fishing, as well as the seasonal aspect of the community — I understand the dynamics that are in play both economically and socially in these types of communities.”

When asked about his five-year vision for the department, Mr. Wirtz focused on the combination fire and EMS departments in Oak Bluffs.

“It is actually very efficient and cost-effective,” he said, adding that the most common issue related to combination departments is retaining employees. “There needs to be an effort not only in recruitment but retention.”

Reached by phone later, Mr. Wirtz elaborated on the importance of integrating fire and EMS, pointing to a significant moment as a young adult, when he was on contract with the Navy and taught recreational scuba diving to service members in Guam.

“That was a catalyst in my life because I was taking people to remote places and I realized that we were scuba diving in hundreds of feet of water and it was beautiful and crystal clear but I had absolutely no idea what to do if there was a medical emergency,” he said. “So soon after I got my EMT and decided that wasn’t enough and got my paramedic.”

He simultaneously began his fire fighter training.

In the phone interview, Mr. Wirtz added that he was one of the original members of the Barnstable County Dive/Rescue team.

“I have a long history of public safety diving, training and service,” he said. “As well as all aspects of technical rescue. I’m a technician in high angle, trench, confined space, structural collapse and dive.”

Mr. Wirtz is married and has three children, ranging from 26 to 10 years old. He said he and his family are excited about the move to the Vineyard.

“I know, because I have lived on islands before, that coming in from outside, becoming part of the community is going to be very important to me and I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “I’ve been where I am for over 25 years at the Chatham Fire Department and I’m very comfortable and I think that it’s good to shake it up a little bit and have some new and interesting challenges ahead of me.”

The town will now enter negotiations on a three-year contract with Mr. Wirtz to formalize his appointment.