Hingham brothers hold top spots in police and fire departments
Fire Chief Bob Olsson and Police Chief Glenn OlssonBy Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
In the town of Hingham, there are two Chief Olssons. Robert “Bob” Olsson, 64, is the fire chief and his younger brother, Glenn, 59, is the police chief. And although they took different paths to achieve their respective department’s top spots, they share a deep commitment to public service and honoring the work ethic that was instilled in them at an early age.
Although there were no immediate family members who served in either department prior to when they joined their respective departments, the Olssons said they did have family friends who did who inspired them. They also credit their father, Robert, who was an Eagle Scout when he was younger and then went on to be a troop leader. Both Bob and Glenn themselves are also Eagle Scouts.
“Our dad always set an example for us and I think that really got us interested in public service,” Glenn said.
After graduating from high school, Bob studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then attended graduate school at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. There he was inspired by one of his professors who worked for an insurance company on fire protection engineering.
“That caught my interest,” he recalled. “It also appealed to my technical, engineering side.”
After taking a civil service exam, he was hired by the Hingham Fire Department in 1976, working primarily as an emergency medical technician. After working his way up the ranks, he was named chief in April of 2015.
Glenn’s route to the top spot in his department took a different approach.
“I didn’t go to college right away. I owned a gas station for a while, which was a good experience,” he said.
In 1980, he too, decided to take the civil service exam. After passing, he attended the police academy which was then located in Fall River. He also earned a bachelors’ degree in criminal justice at Curry College. After being hired by the Hingham Police Department, he became a patrolman for the next 16 years. He was named chief in July 2015.
“I never planned on becoming the chief,” he admitted. “It was a big change to make this jump. It’s almost like starting over.”
Both brothers now find themselves not so much “on the streets” but more involved in working with many of the town’s municipal departments such as the planning board, finance committee and zoning board of appeals.
Hingham is a very affluent community which also has four main roadways that thousands of commuters use each day. It also has a MBTA commuter rail station and a commuter boat that goes into Boston each day. The Olssons are both involved in overseeing different parts of these transportation modes ensuring safety and compliance with regulations.
The town has also, they agree, changed demographic-wise, from when they were growing up.
“There are now less farms, “Bob said, “and more developments.”
Currently there are several major housing developments being built in the town that require input from them.
Although the brothers have a very easygoing manner, occasionally teasing each other, it is evident there is a deep respect and pride for the job that the other does.
“And no matter what, we have one rule. We are brothers first,” Bob said.
Both Olssons note that they feel fortunate to work in a town where management also stresses cooperation between departments.
One issue the police and fire departments have worked on as a cooperative effort is the Hingham Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (Hingham C.A.R.E.S.). that aims to put into place measures regarding the opioid epidemic. Hingham, like every other community across the state, and indeed, the nation, has been faced with this challenge. Last year the town had 29 situations where emergency measures were required to deal with an overdose.
“Like other issues, such as drunk drivers and domestic abuse, we are the ones dealing with it. So it’s key that our departments work together on this,” Glenn said.
The Olssons admit that after dealing with so many people in crisis, their perceptions of those who abuse drugs has changed.
“Addiction is an illness and it destroys families,” Glenn said. “We have to have compassion and have open conversations.”
“Outreach is important and it’s important to get different points of view,” Bob added.
Now age 64, Bob will be retiring next year. As such, he is intent on helping the department prepare as much as possible for the challenges of the future. Issues such as newer construction materials that burn faster and the safety of his personnel when responding to fires when these types of materials are involved, is paramount, he said.
“Regarding fire flow, we have to relearn some lessons,” he said. “How do you survive these? How do you get out?”
Both brothers note that they love their jobs and spend many, many hours at them. But one thing that irks them, a little bit, they agree, is the perception of how police and fire departments are portrayed on television.
“I have to always remind people that what they think they see on CSI is not real!” Bob laughed.
If there is one regret the brothers have, it is that one of the most important people in their lives is not here to witness their success.
“Our dad passed away before he saw us be promoted into these positions,” Bob said. “He would have loved it and been so proud.”
They are fortunate that their mother, Doris, was able to partake in seeing them both being named chief, they added.
“They both really instilled in us that work ethic. They helped us develop that motivation that is deep inside us to always do well,” Bob said. “And we are truly doing these jobs because we care deeply about the departments we represent.”