EAST PROVIDENCE — One of the final acts of the Budget Commission before it will be officially dissolved Monday morning, Sept. 16, was to approve the recommendation of fellow member and City Manager Peter Graczykowski to hire Captain Oscar Elmasian as the permanent chief of the East Providence Fire Department.The Commission unanimously supported the measure at its final scheduled meeting Thursday, Sept. 12, in Room 306 of City Hall.
Chief Elmasian served in an acting capacity as the leader of the department since the end of December 2012 when then Chief Joseph Klucznik opted to retire.
“It’s an honor to be the chief of such a great organization as the East Providence Fire Department, an organization I’ve worked in for almost 27 years,” Chief Elmasian said during an interview in his temporary office at the Sweetland House on the Senior Center ground off Waterman Avenue later Thursday.
Chief Elmasian has made a steady climb up the EPFD ranks since officially becoming a firefighter in March of 1987. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2003 then captain in 2008. He also served as the city’s fire marshal until accepting the acting chief’s role. In addition, he was president of the firefighters’ union for 10 years.
Somewhat ironically, Chief Elmasian said he, too, was considering retirement until his predecessor walked away from the position.
“When I was first promoted to captain and as fire marshal, that’s when I really started to think about maybe being the chief,” Chief Elmasian explained. “Being the fire marshal, there’s a lot of administrative work. This job is just about all administrative. I was actually thinking about retiring myself until Chief Klucznik decided he was going to retire.
“The City Manager asked me if I was interested in being named the acting chief, and I said, definitely. I love the job, but it’s a lot different than any other position I’ve had in the department.
Chief Elmasian said he immediately began to implement his vision of the department when he took the job last December. Now permanently seated in the position, he said it will allow him to make some of the changes he’s considered were needed for a while.
“During my acting status we were able to accomplish quite a few things. One of the biggest things was getting the approval to hire 12 recruit firefighters,” Chief Elmasian said. “We’ve updated our standard operating guidelines, the SOGs we use every day. We were able to order a brand new rescue, a purchase we made from a grant obtained by the previous administration.”
“We’re going to apply for another SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant, so we hopefully can add another 10 firefighters on top of the 12 we already will be able to hire. It will beef up the staff, get us to near full capacity. And we’re in the process of redoing our rules and regulations, something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1950s.”
Going forward, as construction to Stations 1 and 4 is completed and new vehicles come on line, the chief said it was imperative for the department to be more forward thinking in terms of fulfilling personnel and equipment requirements.
“We need to maintain proper staffing levels and we need to start replacing apparatus in a timely fashion so we don’t force the city into a situation where they have to replace five (three engines, two ladders) vehicles like we have to now,” Chief Elmasian said.
The chief seems comfortable in the position, knowing he has the backing of his superior, his immediate underlings and his family.
“I have great support from the City Manager. I have the support of the battalion chiefs. One of the first things I did as acting chief was to gather the four battalion chiefs, tell them how I wanted to approach things and they all jumped on board,” the chief said.
He added, “As far as the firefighters, there’s been some grievances. My relationship with the union is we’ll agree to disagree on some issues. I was union president for 10 years. I know how it works. We both have a job to do, but we shouldn’t make things personal. And I don’t think it is.
“My wife (Kerry) and my two sons (Ryan and Tyler), especially during this acting period, have been great. They supported me wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t have been able to do the job they way it needs to be done without their support.”