published Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Whitfield County selects new fire chief

For the first time in 32 years, the Whitfield County Fire Department has a new chief.

At a special called meeting Monday morning, the county's board of commissioners voted 3-0 in favor of hiring Edward O'Brien, who retired last year as fire chief/emergency management director in DeKalb County, Ga.

He'll earn $85,000 annually and starts his job June 23.

O'Brien will bring a "new set of eyes" to the fire department, Commission Chairman Mike Babb said, and he's got good communications skills.

The two other finalists were longtime Whitfield County Fire Department leaders, assistant fire chiefs Randy Kittle and Danny Roach.

O'Brien becomes only the third fire chief in the history of Whitfield County, replacing Carl Collins, who retired last month after serving in that position since 1982.

"I'm definitely excited about this new opportunity," O'Brien said after he had shaken hands with several firefighters and other county officials who turned out for the meeting. "I'm really looking forward to getting out and meeting the personnel, both career and volunteer. I'm going to sit back a while, watch things, listen, and that's going to be my plan. Then we'll look at it as a team of what we need to do if there need to be any improvements."

In Whitfield County, O'Brien will be in charge of a combination department that has 68 career firefighters including himself and 67 volunteers.

"The biggest thing for me is safety," O'Brien said when asked for his overall philosophy on fire service. "I really want to make sure the personnel are safe. If they're safe and well taken care of, then they can give good service to the citizens."

O'Brien, 49, worked from 1986 to 2013 at DeKalb Fire Rescue, where he retired in 2013 as fire chief/EMA director after working his way up through the ranks as firefighter, driver engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief and deputy chief.

He was responsible for a $70 million budget, 29 facilities and more than 100 response vehicles there.

O'Brien holds an associate degree in fire science from DeKalb College and a bachelor of science degree in occupational safety and health with fire management from Columbia Southern University.

As DeKalb's chief, he worked with the board of commissioners to replace $2 million worth of breathing apparatus and began a risk reduction initiative that will be spearheaded by DeKalb employees to reduce injuries and accidents. O'Brien said he worked under tight budget constraints and finished under budget every year he was chief.

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

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