Greg Priest, the former chief of the University of Connecticut Fire Department, was sworn in as West Hartford’s assistant chief on Tuesday.
By Ronni Newton
A crowd of family and friends joined firefighters from around the state and town officials as former UConn Fire Chief Greg Priest was sworn in Tuesday by Town Clerk Essie Labrot as assistant chief of the West Hartford Fire Department.
Priest, 41, has assumed the role of operations management for the department formerly held by Asst. Chief Richard Winn, who retired in October 2017 after more than 30 years. His first day on the job was Monday.
Most recently Priest was chief of the University of Connecticut Fire Department, a job he held since December 2016. Prior to that he was a deputy chief stationed at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, where he worked extensively with the West Hartford Fire Department in mutual aid and emergency medical services roles. He originally joined the UConn Health Center Fire Department in 1997, and was named deputy chief in 2011.
Priest’s career dates back to 1992, when he joined the Avon Fire Department as a cadet, and he also has experience in emergency service and law enforcement. He has an associates degree in paramedic services from Capital Community College, a bachelors degree in fire service administration, paramedic studies, and criminal justice from Charter Oak State College, and a management certificate for public service professionals from UConn.
Priest said he was humbled by the show of support in the audience, and did not want to be the center of attention. “Today is about recognition for my family – blood or extended … today is about recognition for all of my co-workers in the public safety field who have encouraged me and supported me and provided me with the experiences necessary to attain this position,” he said.
West Hartford sets the bar high for executive leadership, and Priest said he could not be more pleased to be joining this team.
Priest first addressed his remarks directly to Chief Gary Allyn. “You’ve given 30 years of service to the West Hartford Fire Department, and you’ve place your faith in me,” Priest said. “To obtain that faith is an honor and I will give you nothing but my best.”
Addressing his co-workers in the West Hartford Fire Department, Priest said, “Today is not about me, it is truly about us.”
He said he is truly privileged to be able to join the team. “Change is an inevitable part of life, and I will do everything in my power to be communicative and transparent in matters small and large.”
Above all, he said, West Hartford “has and must continue to provide outstanding fire and EMS service to the community. We must value excellence and pride in the department, have expectations of each other, and reinforce the relationships that have trust as a cornerstone and foster a culture that prioritizes a sense of shared mission.”
Priest said he will leverage collective strengths, advocate for the team, pledge to make decisions that are in the best interests of the department, and ensure that everyone can go home at the end of each shift “physically and mentally intact,” even as they are taking on risks for the citizens.
“Regardless of our positions in the organization, we must rely on each other to always have our back,” said Priest.
“Everything about today is about all the people you see out there,” Priest told We-Ha.com following the swearing-in ceremony. “I’m passionate about West Hartford,” he said.
Priest was chosen following a national search, for his “strong commitment to public service and background that brings together firefighting, emergency services, and law enforcement,” Allyn said.
A lifelong resident of Connecticut, Priest lives with his two children in Salem. He has maintained his connection to the law enforcement community, Allyn said, and is still a part-time police officer in Southwick, MA.
“We’re going to begin a new chapter in the West Hartford Fire Department today,” said Allyn when he welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
That comment was a reference to more than just the swearing in of a new assistant chief. Allyn has recently announced his plans to retire, and although a retirement date has not been set, Town Manager Matt Hart said that the town has posted the position online, with applications due on Aug. 24.
“The West Hartford Fire Department has been in a unique position for the last couple of years, and a lot has been demanded of them,” Mayor Shari Cantor told the audience, referencing the department’s assuming of the paramedic role two years ago, on Aug. 1, 2016. She has continued to hear wonderful stories about the service they provide as they deal with life and death situations.
“We need a leader who has the experience, and the expertise, and the willingness to learn and to adjust and … [Priest] is prepared to do that and is in a position to do that right away,” said Cantor.
She said that Priest already knows the town, and the challenges he faces and the opportunities that await him.
“I’m confident that Greg has the experience, the education, and the training to help lead our fire department into the next generation,” Cantor said.
“I feel like it as just the other day I was at your swearing in at UConn,” said Hart, who previously served as town manager in Mansfield, the town in which the UConn Storrs campus is located. “I was just so excited to see your application come in for this position here.”
Hart said it was a strong applicant pool, and commended Allyn and town staff who led the process that ultimately led to the choice of Priest, someone with work ethic, preparedness, and passion for what he does.
“You’re coming at a very critical time in our history,” Hart told Priest. “You going to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with your team, with other key leaders around the organization, and our elected officials to help set the right path for the future.”
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