UPDATED: Thursday, 4 p.m.
Despite the challenges he faces, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Hazel is optimistic about the state of the Tewksbury Fire Department, as he prepares to succeed retiring Fire Chief Richard Mackey.
The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the recommendation of Town Manager Richard Montouri at their meeting Tuesday night.
"Mike will do a great job as chief," said Mackey. "He's done a great job as deputy chief the last couple of years and has had a great career with the department."
Hazel has been with the department for 22 years. He assumed the title of acting deputy chief in July 2009 and was named permanent deputy chief on Nov. 10, 2010.
Montouri said there were two "outstanding" finalists for the position of chief. Hazel was selected over Tewksbury Fire Capt. Mike Sitar.
Hazel will take over as acting chief on May 27, Mackey's last day on the job. Mackey will be using up vacation time through July 11, his official retirement date. At that time, Hazel will become permanent chief.
Mackey said he anticipates the transition will be very smooth.
"Mike knows the town well. He's lived here all his life," he said.
Hazel said that being able to work alongside Mackey makes for a gradual and easy transition.
"And even after he is retired, (Mackey) has made it clear that if I need anything or have any questions, I can just pick up a phone and call," said Hazel.
Hazel understands he is taking the reins of the Fire Department at a particularly challenging time. A bare-bones budget has caused the South Station to be closed for six months and negotiations are ongoing with the Firefighters Union regarding a new contract. Still, he is optimistic that the town's fiscal fortunes will turn and that a contract agreeable to both sides can be signed.
"We have one of the most progressive and forward thinking unions in the area," said Hazel. "We all agree that the primary concern is the safety of the residents and the safety of the guys on the trucks. They understand the situation the town is in."
Interviews for candidates to succeed Hazel as deputy chief were scheduled to take place Thursday. Montouri is expected to announce his recommendation at the May 24 Selectmen's meeting.