For the two brothers at the helm of DeKalb County’s police and fire departments, public service could be a genetic trait.
Bill O’Brien was named chief of the DeKalb County Police Department last year and his brother Eddie O’Brien is interim chief of the county fire rescue department.
“How we ended up with this calling is beyond me,” Bill said.
Their great-grandfather was a police chief in Massachusetts. They have a brother Kevin, who is a deputy chief with the Newton County Fire Service. Kevin, 37, at one time was a battalion chief with DeKalb’s fire department. Bill has a son Sean, 22, who is a police officer with the Doraville Police Department.
“He’s not the chief yet,” Bill said.
Although the brothers are not working side-by-side daily, Bill said they are fortunate to have the opportunity to communicate regularly about various aspects of their jobs.
“There are no barriers,” Bill said. “We pick up the phone and call one another very frequently on issues.”
Several years ago, the management teams of the fire and police departments had nothing to do with each other, Eddie said.
“I guess being brothers does help, because it seems like every day [there’s] at least one phone call back and forth,” Eddie said.
The brothers, who were born in Washington, D.C., lived in Massachusetts for a few years before their family moved to DeKalb County in 1972. The pair attended Redan High School.
Eddie, who this month is celebrating his 25th year serving DeKalb, spent most of his career working on specialty teams in the fire rescue department: dive team, hazardous materials team and technical rescue team.
“I was one of those that can’t get enough of the calls and love running them and fighting fires,” said Eddie, who worked with Fire Station 24, the heavy rescue company, for approximately 10 years. There, he advanced through the ranks from driver to lieutenant to captain.
“It’s one of the teams where, when the cards are down, that’s the one you want coming to help you,” Eddie said.
Bill, 48, is a 26-year veteran with the DeKalb Police Department. In January 1985, Bill started working in the uniform division of the south precinct. After six years as a patrol officer, he moved to the detective division where he investigated robberies and homicides.
Later, Bill became a bike patrol officer with the community-oriented police team. Bill spent the next 10 years working in the internal affairs division, where he was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and then captain. He has also worked as a precinct captain, chief of staff and a major in the interactive community policing unit.
“Then one fateful Tuesday evening I got a phone call from the CEO [Burrell Ellis] and he asked me to be his acting chief, and two years later here I sit,” Bill said.
Bill was named interim police chief in 2009 when then chief Terrell Bolton was fired by Ellis for insubordination, misuse of county property and acts unbecoming an officer.
“Don’t ask me how he came up with my name,” Bill said. “I was sitting in a conference room … until about eight one evening going, ‘What in the hell just happened?’”
Eddie credits the O’Briens’ success to a strong family background.
“A good, solid, two-parent household is what … kept us going through the years,” Eddie said.
Their father, William, worked in middle management for Delta Airlines, and their mother, Mary, managed the Hidden Hills golf course for many years.
“We weren’t spoiled growing up,” Eddie said. “We had to work our way through college.”
Although their parents, who live in Covington, haven’t really talked to the brothers about their achievements, Bill said he is quite sure they are proud of them.
“They also understand the responsibility and pressure we’re under,” Bill said. “We’re not chiefs in a little Mayberry with five officers; we’re running extremely large organizations.”