As far back as he can remember, Tom O'Brien wanted to be a firefighter.

After about three decades in the profession, the former assistant chief of the Newark Division of Fire now leads a department for the first time in his career.

Liberty Township trustees Feb. 22 voted unanimously to hire O'Brien as the Liberty Township Fire Department's new chief.

O'Brien, 50, said he grew up just down the street from his local fire department in Marietta. He said veterans of that department took the time to mentor a youngster who viewed firefighting as "kind of a calling."

"It's just always fascinated me," he said. "I've never considered it a job. I've always considered it a profession."

O'Brien, who has served with the Newark Division of Fire for about 30 years, said the development and population growth around Powell attracted him to apply for the job in Liberty Township. The Newark resident said it has not been easy to say goodbye to the department he's called home for three decades.

"This is probably one of the best weeks of my life and one of the worst weeks of my life," he said last week after trustees voted to name him chief.

O'Brien, who joined the department this week, will be paid $100,000 annually for serving as the township's fire chief, according to township records.

Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said she views O'Brien as the "perfect fit" for the department, citing his "high standards" and "strong leadership presence."

"His enthusiasm is contagious and I'm excited for the next chapter," she said.

O'Brien said he will spend his first few weeks on the job "getting to know the area and the members of the division." He said he also will review the department's current operations to make sure they conform with the field's best practices.

"It's an ever-evolving process, being a fire chief and being a member of a fire department," he said.

O'Brien said last week he had not met with city of Powell officials but added he looked forward to working closely with them.

O'Brien will work alongside the department's former chief, Tim Jensen. After trustees launched an investigation into Jensen's conduct as chief, the two sides struck a deal Aug. 25 for the former fire chief to return to work as a lieutenant fire prevention officer, a position in which he'll earn about $94,000 annually.

O'Brien last week said he already has had a conversation with Jensen, whom O'Brien called "a very professional man."

"I expect there to be no issues," O'Brien said about working with the former chief.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick