You can remove the “interim” label now, as Joe O’Conor has been installed as Peachtree City’s newest fire chief.
With his troops behind him after posing for a ceremonial photo recognizing O’Conor for winning a community firefighting award, City Manager Jim Pennington stepped in to make the formal announcement.
The look on O’Conor’s face revealed that he was surprised — make that stunned — by the appointment.
Right above, Peachtree City Manager Jim Pennington (L) congratulates new Peachtree City Fire Chief Joe O’Conor on his appointment to the position after serving in the role for 11 months. The surprise announcement drew whoops and hollers from fire department employees. Photo/John Munford.
O’Conor, formerly the department’s assistant chief, has served as the “interim” chief since the resignation of former chief Ed Eiswerth in December 2012.
The move is likely far less surprising to the rank and file at the fire department, as O’Conor has calmed the waves created by Eiswerth’s disgraceful departure. By all accounts, O’Conor has put the fire department’s ship on a clear, smooth course.
“He has done everything you can possibly imagine to take a department that was in a very tenuous condition and moved it forward,” Pennington said.
Pennington then reached into his pocket to pull out the shiny gold new badge.
“So I now make the appointment that Joe O’Conor is now the official, full-time, fire chief,” Pennington exclaimed. O’Conor’s staff roared with approval and burst into applause as Pennington shook hands with their “new” chief.
After the hoopla, all O’Conor could manage was a shocked “wow!”
Just minutes before, O’Conor had lauded his staff for helping the department improve since he took the helm.
“There are some amazing people standing in the corner over there,” O’Conor said, pointing to the firefighters, EMTs and paramedics in the audience. “This has never been about me. It’s always been about them and it’s truly an honor.”
O’Conor said he didn’t feel he deserved the firefighter’s award from the Ronnie Thames Foundation because he didn’t even save a life.
“I can tell you that together, I think we saved an organization,” O’Conor said.
Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix lauded O’Conor for being “a marvel for the city and a marvel to the people who work under him.”
“I have heard nothing but praise for this man from anyone,” Haddix said.
When O’Conor took over the department 11 months ago, it was reeling from the abrupt resignation of Eiswerth, who was accused of making multiple sexual advances toward a female subordinate, on one occasion in which he forced his way into her hotel room at a conference. Eiswerth resigned after the allegations came to light in December 2012.
The female firefighter who blew the whistle on Eiswerth was awarded a $300,000 legal settlement from the city and the city’s risk management agency in March 2013. She claimed that during the incident in which Eiswerth came to her hotel room unsolicited and forced his way in, she worried that he was going to rape her.
The female firefighter, Martine Piers, told the city’s human resources department that she came forward to protect younger female firefighters, and she didn’t want Eiswerth to brush the incident under the carpet.
Some of the evidence against Eiswerth included text messages that Eiswerth had sent to Piers’ phone.
While the settlement with Piers provided her closure and gave the department a chance to move on, the appointment of O’Conor full-time is seen as a sign that the department’s course has settled under his leadership, which is more than city leaders could have hoped for immediately following the Eiswerth scandal.
Below, firefighters and members of the Ronnie Thames Foundation posed with new full-fledged fire chief Joe O’Conor (front row, far left) seconds before City Manager Jim Pennington removed the interim tag from O’Conor’s title. Photo/John Munford.