Board accepts new fire chief contract

Board accepts new fire chief contract
Chief Tom Sousa congratulates Battalion Chief Ben Rigney on his promotion to fire chief upon Sousa’s retirement in October during a March WMFR board meeting. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – West Manatee Fire Rescue’s soon-to-be Chief Ben Rigney’s employment contract is approved and ready to go into effect when current Chief Tom Sousa retires from the fire service in October.

WMFR’s board of commissioners voted unanimously June 18 to accept the terms of the contract negotiated by board Chair David Bishop. Once the vote was taken, Sousa and the five fire commissioners each took a turn congratulating Rigney on his promotion and the acceptance of the contract.

The contract is for five years and requires Rigney to reside in the district for the entirety of the term. The fire chief position is the only one with WMFR that carries a residency requirement. Until October, Rigney will continue in his current position as battalion chief.

Bishop said that during negotiations he also argued for the chief’s salary to be raised somewhat to come up to current standards and bring it more in line with other Florida fire districts. He said he tried to negotiate a raise for Sousa during his three years as chief, but that Sousa refused.

“When you have talent, you pay for talent, and you have high expectations for results,” Bishop said.

Rigney, a career WMFR firefighter, was selected by commissioners in March to succeed Sousa. He was the only candidate to emerge from a three-month internal selection process and received recommendations not only from commissioners but also from his fellow firefighters.

The candidate selection committee was headed by Commissioner Larry Jennis, who gave Rigney a positive recommendation during the March meeting.

In addition to taking on the mantle of fire chief, Rigney also will be undertaking a two-year training program to achieve the top certification for a fire service officer with the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program. Rigney said the program, previously a four-year endeavor, is undergoing some restructuring and that he hopes to start sometime in the next year. He was accepted in the program in mid-2018.

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