By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Acting Fire Chief Christopher Olsen appeared before the Town Council Monday night to answer questions about the department’s oldest fire engine, which is in need of costly repairs and is slated to be disposed. But Olsen took a minute to praise the East Greenwich firefighters.
“These firefighters did a great job in this past storm. I just wanted to put it out there and I’m very proud of this department. I’m also very proud of the fact that these firefighters that we have are very professional. I just want you to know that,” he said to the council. Then he turned toward the audience behind him. “And I want the people out there to know their fire department, their firefighters, are professional. I just wanted to let you know that as well.”
The words were notable in and of themselves because of the relentless negativity coming from town officials toward the firefighters in recent months.
But it was particularly striking in comparison to his words to the council just a month earlier, when he outlined what he saw as deficiencies in the department and cited the firefighters “lack of professionalism,” during a report that lasted nearly 90 minutes.
Asked about his apparent change of heart after the meeting, Olsen said he’d gotten to see more of the firefighters’ work in the last month.
“It’s different talking to the firefighters, watching them do their job,” he said. “I wanted to let the community know they have an excellent fire department. No one in this town needs to worry.”
Olsen added that his last day will be Monday, Jan. 22.
It’s unclear who will be following Olsen as acting fire chief or the plan to hire a full-time replacement. Through Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said Wednesday Olsen would be on the job until a new acting chief is named and that a successor had not yet been recommended to the council.
The Town Council meets next on Jan. 22.