WEST NEWBURY – Scott Berkenbush has resigned as fire chief, effective immediately. He has also stepped down from the Board of Fire Engineers and taken a leave of absence as a firefighter for the town’s call department for personal reasons, according to a letter tendered to the Town Clerk’s office on Friday.
Berkenbush had previously announced that he would serve as chief until next spring but would not seek reappointment. However, as of Friday, Deputy Chief Michael Dwyer had assumed temporary leadership of the department until the Board of Fire Engineers can meet to discuss this and other staffing issues on Wednesday.
In this capacity, Dwyer immediately sent an email to all members of the town’s call fire department advising them of the situation. Fire Engineers meet at 7:30 p.m. in the upstairs administrative conference room at the central fire station.
When reached on Saturday, town officials appeared to have various levels of knowledge about the unexpected resignation. Selectmen chairman Bert Knowles, Jr said he “didn’t know for sure” if Berkenbush had definitely resigned yet, but was told the former chief planned to drop off a resignation letter to the town clerk’s office by noon on Friday.
Yet, Knowles’ colleague Glenn Kemper said Town Clerk Michael McCarron called him directly on Friday morning to inform him of the news shortly after Berkenbush dropped off the letter.
“It was a surprise to me,” Kemper said. He immediately contacted the other four fire engineers only to learn that none of them were aware of what their colleague had done. Instead the former chief had simply told them he would be “unavailable” to handle fire duties this weekend, Kemper said.
“I find that very troubling,” he added.
Dwyer confirmed that Berkenbush contacted him on Thursday and asked the deputy chief to fill in for him over the weekend because he was going away. But despite the fact that, according to those who have seen it, his letter of resignation was dated Aug. 14, Wednesday, Berkenbush did not inform Dwyer or any of the other fire engineers of his decision to step down. When asked about the lack of communication from Berkenbush, Dwyer said he thinks maybe the chief just wanted to “make the decision for himself” without a lot of input from others in the department.