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Fire Department hires one, promotes two after retirement of Capt. Billy Johnson

BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Fire Department has announced it’s promoted two department members and hired a new full-time firefighter.

Lt. Mark Geno was promoted to captain; firefighter Daniel “Dan” Hiner was promoted to lieutenant; Andrew “Andy” Blazej came on board as a full-time firefighter from a field of 47 candidates.

The staffing changes follow the retirement of Capt. Billy Johnson at the end of January after his nearly 28 years of service.

Applicants participated in a lengthy hiring process that included a written test, an oral board interview, and an interview with Fire Chief Michael Bucossi and Assistant Chief Peter Lynch.

In a phone interview, Geno said he looks forward to the new daily challenges that come with serving as a captain and leading a new platoon: “Now you are the leader, so the guys look to you,” he said.

Geno has served in the department for 27 years. When asked why he chose firefighting as a career, he referenced the saying, If you love your job, you never work a day in your life.

He added that the job affords a sense of pride and an opportunity to work with great colleagues, that the job is ever-changing, and that training and experience teach firefighters what to expect when an alarm sounds — but that no two calls are alike.

“It keeps you on your toes,” he said.

He said he applied for promotion to captain in 2007. In the intervening years, Geno said, he learned the value of staying the course and always putting his best foot forward.

Geno said that with patience and perseverance, “eventually you’ll get to where you’ve set your goals.”

According to a BFD press release, the department promoted Geno from a field of four candidates. He took charge of Platoon 3 on Feb. 25.

A question during the interview process Geno said he hadn’t anticipated: When is the last time you felt angry?

He said he simply answered truthfully.

“As captain, I will set that [truthful] tone” for the platoon, Geno said. “It’s up to me to lead by example.”

The BFD has three platoons, each of which works a 24-hour shift with 48 hours off in between.

Geno lives in Brattleboro with his wife, Tammy. The couple have two grown children.

Hiner starts his new role as lieutenant on March 1, serving on Platoon 1 under Capt. Ron Hubbard.

“I’m pumped and very excited,” said Hiner about his promotion. “It was a lot of hard work. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

Lieutenant, which marks the BFD’s first level of management, brings a new set of responsibilities. If the platoon captain is away, running the shift falls to the lieutenant, Hiner said.

He added that he looks forward to guiding, mentoring, and coaching the new and younger firefighters in the platoon.

Hiner had applied for promotion three times unsuccessfully.

“I had a lot of confidence this time,” he said.

The promotion process came with its own series of highs and lows, he added.

One interview question that gave Hiner pause: Should you become lieutenant, rather than any of your colleagues, how would you approach that situation with them?

Hiner said he understood the feeling of disappointment at not receiving a promotion. He said he, too, planned to lead by example.

Numerous congratulatory texts and messages have arrived for Hiner since his promotion was announced. He said he’s overwhelmed by all the good wishes.

Hiner, who lives in Brattleboro with his wife, Beth, and their two children, has served the department as a firefighter for 16 years. The department promoted him to lieutenant from of a field of seven candidates.

Blazej comes to BFD with eight years of service as Guilford volunteer firefighter and a member of the BFD call staff. In addition to the written test, the oral board interview, and chiefs’ interview, Blazej also completed a federal physical agility test.

“I guess [becoming a firefighter is] every kid’s dream,” said Blazej. “It just continued to be a dream for me.”

Blazej said applied for the position because he wanted a career and not just a job. He started with the department on Feb. 18.

The physical agility test was the hardest part of the interview process, said Blazej.

An interview question that gave him pause: How would you manage a situation where a citizen wanted firefighters to run into a burning house to rescue a pet dog?

Blazej said he related to the question because he said his wife would feel distraught should a fire trap one of his family dogs. That said, he explained, the balancing act is to assure the citizen while protecting firefighters’ lives.

Blazej and his wife, Jessica, live in Brattleboro with their four children.

New positions are rare in the department, Bucossi told The Commons in an earlier interview. Once hired to the department, firefighters tend to stay here for the long haul, he explained.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #245 (Wednesday, March 12, 2014). This story appeared on page A3.

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