Liberty Township Trustees unanimously approved hiring Thomas O’Brien as their new fire chief in a special session Wednesday morning at the township hall.
O’Brien’s start date is Feb. 27, with his swearing-in ceremony on Feb. 28.
“I’m excited,” O’Brien said, as the trustee meeting started. “I am ready to hit the ground running.”
O’Brien is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who has worked his way up through the ranks from firefighter/paramedic to assistant fire chief with the Newark, Ohio, fire department.
“I’m not being chief to be chief. I’m seeing it as an opportunity to take a very skilled, knowledgeable group of people to the next level to be leaders in the industry,” O’Brien said. “I know there have been issues in the past. I told all the men I’m coming with a clean slate. What is past is past; it’s time to move forward.”
O’Brien said his experience branches beyond the Newark department. He has been an instructor at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, and currently teaches fire classes at the Career and Technology Education Center of Licking County.
O’Brien said while he and his wife were visiting friends in Chicago in 2000, he took the firefighter’s test. He got hired, but all of his family was in Ohio.
“I told my wife if we’re not going to Chicago, I’m going to get promoted,” he said. “I went from firefighter to assistant chief in seven years.”
O’Brien said after becoming assistant chief, he went back to school to earn his Executive Fire Officer’s certificate. He said he is an internationally credentialed chief fire officer from the Center for Public Safety Excellence.
“I feel to be a good chief officer, you need to have a well-rounded educational background. Especially in today’s age. I’m now one of the people that’s reviewing the applications,” he said.
After the paperwork was signed, trustee Shyra Eichhorn told O’Brien that he has been well received by the township’s firefighters, and she is looking forward to his arrival.
“The people that have met you so far consistently say the same thing,” she said. “That there’s such excitement in your eyes and that reminds them when they first became firefighters. So I have no doubt that kind of attitude is going to be contagious, and I’m excited to see the kind of culture you develop here.”
Liberty Township trustees appointed William A. Fields Jr. as the interim administrative fire chief Oct. 3 during a regularly scheduled board session.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan expressed her thanks for all the interim chief’s work.
“I want to thank Chief Fields,” Leneghan said. “He’s been a blessing sent to this department. I think he’s been a blessing to our guys. A blessing to all of us. To walk in knowing you’re not permanent, that it’s temporary, and to invest what you invested even though you were not here for the long term, I think we got a big bang for our buck.”
Trustees said Fields will stay with the department for a while for transition.
“It’s certainly been a pleasure,” Field said. “That’s what we do, though. That’s what you have to understand about firefighters. Once a firefighter always a firefighter, and you’ll always care about your brothers.
“It’s really sad to say good-bye,” Fields said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.