NORWOOD — Newly appointed Norwood Fire Chief Anthony J. Greeley still has the build and energy level of a hockey forward, almost 30 years after he played for Norwood High and the University of Connecticut hockey teams.
You can hear it in his voice when he talks about his job, and you can see it in the way he carries himself through the halls of the firehouse — if you can keep up with him. He said he still loves to lace up his skates each year with the Norwood Fire Hockey Team.
But he became a firefighter almost by accident. After graduating from UConn in 1984 with a degree in finance, he had no intention of becoming a firefighter, but his father, a retired Boston police officer, strongly encouraged him to take the civil service exam.
“I told him that I’d give it a try and if I didn’t like what I was doing, that I would leave, and I never left,” said Greeley, now in his 28th year with the department. “I really enjoy what I do.” Greeley’s older brother, Robert, is also a Norwood firefighter.
Before being appointed chief on Jan. 29, Greeley was the town’s fire prevention officer for 11 years, enforcing the state’s fire laws and performing regular inspections of commercial, industrial, and residential properties.
Most people think of firefighters as putting fires out, but preventing them is a big part of their job as well.
“My job as fire prevention officer was to keep the firetrucks in the house,” Greeley said. “It’s all about eliminating hazards and keeping citizens safe and educated.”
The Norwood Fire Department responds to about 5,200 calls each year. That’s roughly 14 motor vehicle accidents, building fires, hazardous material spills, or rescues every day.
In a good year, only a handful of those calls are for two-alarm emergencies or higher. Greeley said that is the result of the preventative work the department has been doing since the 1970s, as well as improvements in technology and strategies that allow firefighters to extinguish fires in their earlier stages.
The whiteboard above Greeley’s desk lists various “to-dos” but is ringed with photos of his family. Various inspection forms are neatly laid out on a nearby table, and the shelves on the walls are lined with binders filled with fire codes, building codes, and regulations covering elevators, sprinklers, and Board of Health matters.
Greeley replaces interim chief Ronald Maggio, who was appointed in September 2012 to replace Michael Howard. Maggio is now deputy chief. Howard had gone on medical leave for unspecified conditions in April 2012 after eight years as fire chief, and has since retired.
In the short-term, Greeley said he wants to maintain the level of service the department provides. He said the town’s ambulances go on approximately 3,600 runs each year.
“EMS numbers are climbing steadily and quickly across the nation because our population is aging,” said Greeley. “Our model is to keep those two ambulances, the paramedic unit and the EMT unit, intact and in service 24-7.”
Greeley said his long-term goals include ensuring that future hires are both firefighters and paramedics.
However, if he had more money, he said, he would spend it on training to keep his firefighters up to date on strategies and tactics.
“Equipment is changing all the time. These firetrucks that come in today aren’t the trucks of 1970 or 1980,” he said. “They’re highly sophisticated, computer-driven. We have a brand-new ladder truck coming in June or July, so there will be a little bit of a training curve on that.”
Greeley said more training means better safety, and when firefighters are safe they can keep citizens safe. But he added that there are things citizens can do to keep themselves safer, too, like being mindful of smoking materials.
“Improper discarding of cigarettes has always been a leading cause of fires and is still very dangerous, but these days, fewer and fewer people smoke,” said Greeley. “What’s creeping up now are candles. Candles are causing more fires.”
Senior Captain Mark Boyland, who has been with the department for 34 years and has known Greeley since 1984, said he is glad the town selected an internal candidate from the field of 24 applicants.
“It will make the transition much smoother and opens up opportunities for other firefighters in the department,” said Boyland, who had been Greeley’s boss for a number of years.
The captain described his former lieutenant as a people person: “He’s very respectful, family-oriented. He’ll be a good liaison to the general public. He’s got a lot of integrity. His heart and soul will be in this job. He’s a class act and will do the department proud.”
Greeley “went through an exacting process to become chief,” said Town Manager John Carroll.
“His biggest challenge going forward will be controlling overtime and staying within the budget,” Carroll said.