June 23, 2014

Search for new Whitfield fire chief worked well

Hiring department heads ranks with writing a budget as one of the most important things that local elected officials do. That’s particularly true when the department provides a vital service, such as fire protection.

The members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners recently faced the task of choosing the county’s first new fire chief in some 32 years. The board’s job was to find the best person for the job. Period.

And they and the committee they established to help them interview and select candidates seem to have taken that task very seriously, as evidenced by the quality of the three finalists, and of the man they ultimately chose to lead the department, former DeKalb County fire chief/emergency management director Edward O’Brien.

O’Brien brings to the position almost 30 years of service in fire protection. He retired last year from DeKalb County, where he supervised some 800 employees.

The other finalists — Whitfield County assistant fire chiefs Randy Kittle and Danny Roach — also brought a vast amount of experience and proven leadership.

Commissioners said one of the factors that led them to choose O’Brien was a belief that having a new set of eyes looking over the department could benefit the county.

That makes sense.

There’s something to be said for promoting from within. It helps maintain a continuity in practice. The new hire has less of a learning curve, and he’s already built up vital relationships with the people he’ll work for and work with.

At the same time, new blood, especially at the top, can often do a business or an agency good. A new CEO or new department head brings different experiences, and a new way of thinking, that can improve an organization.

Balancing the need for stability and the need to continually innovate is a difficult one for any organization. But commissioners seem to have tried their best to do that. We thank them and all those who took part in the selection of the new fire chief, as well as all those who applied for the job, for their efforts. And we wish O’Brien and the fire department the best in the coming days.

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