Norwood’s New Fire Chief

Donna Lane
Issue Date: 
September, 2018
Article Body: 

Captain George Morrice, a 29-year veteran of the Norwood Fire Department, was selected to lead the Norwood Fire Department. He will be sworn in on September 4.
The journey to find a new fire chief began in early March of this year when current Fire Chief Anthony Greeley announced his intent to retire. Town Manager Tony Mazzucco went right to work and met with all four groups of the fire department and their captains to seek input on the future of the department.
Meanwhile, Michelle Pizzi O’Brien, the Town of Norwood’s Human Resource Director, began the process of finding the perfect candidate. She posted the notice of vacancy on the Town’s website and numerous other social media and professional associations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Norfolk County Association of Fire chiefs, the Massachusetts Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
To review the resumes and letters that were to come, a preliminary screening committee was needed. Mazzucco wanted the committee to consist of people who had expertise in both public administration and fire service.
“There are a number of challenges facing the fire department,” Mazzucco said. “Fire service is changing. There are more and more Emergency Medical Services calls coming in and that needs to be managed as well.”
The screening committee included William Scovle, retired former fire chief of Westwood; Michael Liotta, retired former district fire chief for the City of Boston; Charles Doody, fire chief for the Town of Canton; Mary Beth Bernard, assistant town manager for the Town of Foxboro; Paul Flanagan, Winthrop Fire Chief; and Michelle Pizzi O’Brien.
There were 30 applicants for the job, some out of state and several internal candidates. The committee conducted interviews and narrowed the pool of candidates to three finalists.
Mazzucco conducted interviews of the three finalists, along with Assistant General Manager Bernie Cooper and Norwood Police Chief William Brooks.
“There was real quality talent that applied for this position,” Mazzucco said. “All three were solid, dynamic candidates. Each gave very thoughtful, logical answers to all questions that were posed.”
In the end, it was Morrice’s vision for the department and his solid strategic plan that were the deciding factors.
“All things considered, George is the best candidate to take us to the next level and build the future of the department,” Mazzucco said.
So, who is George Morrice and what is his strategic plan for the department? That’s not easy to answer, since Morrice is not comfortable talking about himself or his accomplishments. He does say he is happily married with four children and that family is very important to him. He describes himself as a “family man.” Anything else?
He grew up in Norwood, went to Norwood schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is a licensed electrician.
“I didn’t plan to go into the fire service,” Morrice said. “I took the civil service test at the insistence of my mother and got my EMT license. Sometime later I got a call from Fire Chief Thomas Barry offering me a job as a firefighter.”
Morrice has never looked back!
“I had really good mentors over the years,” Morrice continued. “They taught the practical skills needed to be a firefighter. For example, they would set up situations in buildings that were slated to be torn down or rehabbed, showing the proper way to knock down a door or cut a hole in the floor. It was great in-house training. I also got to take classes around the state. At that time, there was no Fire Academy.”
Morrice is currently the shift commander of Group 1, where he organizes personnel for operations. His job requires that he assign 14 people to two fire engines, a ladder truck, two ambulances (one with advanced paramedics, the other with basic EMTs) and the command vehicle. He is currently shadowing Chief Greeley to learn the administrative aspects of the chief’s job as well. His front-line experience, both with fighting fires and providing emergency medical services, will be a great asset in moving the department forward.
Asked about the strategic plan mentioned by Mazzucco, Morrice declined to answer.
“I don’t want to put anything out to the newspaper before discussing it with members of the department,” Morrice said.
Fair enough. However, he was willing to discuss some of the challenges he sees coming.
“There are a number of senior officers and a department chief who are retiring soon. Within the next two years, we are going to lose a lot of experience. I want to work toward a seamless transition so we can continue to serve and support the people in Norwood.”
He also sees the rapid changes in technology as both a challenge and a vehicle to meet future challenges.
“We have a great EMS program here in Norwood,” Morrice said. “We could grow that. We need to continually improve training, learn new skills and new methods of doing things.”
He also talked about revamping the dispatch center using input from current dispatchers, and forming a committee to design features on the new engine that the department will purchase, scaling down the size of the vehicle, and adding technology improvements.
He would like to improve access to grant money, possibly sending two firefighters to a course on grant writing that the Fire Academy now offers.
“With grant money, we would ultimately be able to improve equipment and systems,” Morrice said.
Throughout our interview, Morrice repeatedly stated that “We’re here to help people and serve this community.”
When asked what he would like to achieve during his tenure as fire chief, Morrice answered confidently.
“Every chief brings something that makes the department better. I’d like to leave the department better than I found it,” Morrice said.
Donna Lane is a Norwood-based writer, lecturer and designer. You can reach her at [email protected].