Local News

June 16, 2014

Whitfield County hires new fire chief

Whitfield County commissioners said they had three strong candidates for fire chief but in the end Edward O’Brien’s experience made the difference.

The Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 Monday to name O’Brien, the former fire chief/emergency management director of DeKalb County Fire Rescue, as the county’s new fire chief.

Commissioner Lynn Laughter was on vacation, but board Chairman Mike Babb, who typically votes only to break ties, voted for O’Brien to show his support for the hire.

O’Brien retired last November after more than 27 years with DeKalb Fire Rescue.

“I put in a full career with DeKalb County, but I’m 49 years old and really not ready to give up firefighting,” he said. “I was looking for a nice place for my wife and I to move to. This is a beautiful place, a good area, a good county and a good department.”

O’Brien, who will be paid $85,000 a year, starts on Monday.

“My first order of business will be to take a look around, meet with employees and listen to them,” he said. “I’m not looking to make any major changes immediately.”

O’Brien is only the third chief in the Whitfield County Fire Department’s history. He takes the place of Carl Collins, who retired at the end of May after some 32 years as fire chief.

The other finalists for chief were Randy Kittle, an assistant fire chief for the Whitfield County Fire Department; Danny Roach, an assistant fire chief for the Whitfield County Fire Department. They were announced on May 31, following a search that began just after Collins announced his retirement in March.

Commissioner Gordon Morehouse said the decision was a difficult one.

“But when you look at his experience, his qualifications and his record of leadership, I am sure we made the right choice,” he said.

Babb said that before voting the board made an open records request for O’Brien’s personnel file.

“His review were all exceeds or far exceeds requirements,” he said. “Those reviews noted his strong communications skills. He had all the experience and qualifications we were looking for. But his communications skills were what really impressed us.”

O’Brien has an associates degree in fire science from DeKalb Community College and a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health from Columbia Southern University.

In DeKalb County, he supervised some 800 employees. In Whitfield County, he will supervise 67 full-time firefighters and 67 volunteers.

“I think it will do us good to have a new set of eyes and someone with a difference perspective look at things,” Babb said. “And I think he will be able to represent Whitfield County well across the state in the different associations and agencies that the fire chief belongs to.”

O’Brien and his wife of 26 years, Caren O’Brien, a registered dental hygienist, have two children.

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