Safety first: New chief wants staff, residents to feel protected
MIDDLEBORO — New Middleboro Fire Chief Owen Thompson took an oath to keep the town’s residents safe when he was sworn in after being hired in September.
Fulfilling that promise, he said, begins with employees he supervises.
“My best way to keep my community safe is to keep my members safe so they can work at their very best every day,’’ he said,
That requires paying attention to their physical and emotional safety, he said.
“My biggest focus over the first few weeks was to make sure the department is running in a safe way for the men and women of the department. The most important part of the job is to keep your members safe physically and emotionally. If that happens, they provide good customer service when you go out the door.’’
He hopes he creates an environment where workers will “feel safe to say, I don’t understand something, I need help. I need extra time spent on me so I can do a better job.’’
“If I don’t create that environment,’’ people will be tempted to “say they know [something that they don’t] or hide that they don’t know’’ an aspect of the job.
When employees experience unhappiness with their jobs, he said, “that can lead to bad customer service and bad things can happen in the field.’’
Keeping an open line of communication and providing the resources his employees need to do their jobs at a top level is crucial, he said, and something “all leaders need to work on. Some leaders do it better than others.’’
Being a leader is not new to Thompson: He climbed the ranks of the Brookline Fire Department, where he worked for 20 years, and eventually made captain before leaving there to take the Middleboro job in September.
As a child, because his father’s job took him to many locations, Thompson learned to assimilate quickly. “I’ve always been outgoing and willing to meet people, because I’ve had to, being the new person.’’
So making the move to the Middleboro job represents yet another transition, something he has become comfortable with.
He said he looks forward to settling into the area. His contract requires him to live within 15 miles of the main station within a year of his start date. He plans to remain in his current hometown of Osterville through the spring, so his daughters, ages 5 and 7, can complete the school year, then he and his wife will be looking to move to the area.
He also enjoys connecting with the community. “I try to get out to the various community functions,’’ he said. That way, he said, “I can meet people but also they can meet me, which is probably more important.’’
He said this interaction makes a big difference. “It’s very important,’’ he said, “We can think we’re doing the right things but if we’re not doing the things the community needs, then we’re not doing the right things.’’ He encourages residents to call and set up a time to meet with him and express their thoughts.
Although he has now climbed up a step up to the position of chief, his current post in a smaller community means he is expected to respond to major calls, which he said he is happy about. “You really become part of an integral part of the response framework.’’
He has been greeted warmly so far, he said. “The men and women of this department have been very welcoming,’’ he said. “I’m extremely thankful to the town administrator and Select Board for getting this opportunity.’’