The Fire Chief
The Fire Chief shows up totally randomly about midway through the play. In some ways he's the most complex character in the piece. The guy definitely has more than a few facets to his character, which is more than you can say for anybody else. For one, we see that he's dedicated to his job. He's been charged to put out all the fires in the city and has come to ask the Smiths if they happen to be having a fire right now. The Chief is very disappointed to find out that there isn't one and complains that the business of putting out fires is going very poorly lately.
We also see that he's a little bit shy. When he first begins to tell his stories, he asks everyone not to listen. As for the stories themselves, they could indicate that either he's absolutely brilliant or completely stupid. Check out this little interchange:
Fire Chief: "'The Dog and the Cow,' an experimental fable. Once upon a time another cow asked another dog: 'Why have you not swallowed your trunk?' 'Pardon me,' replied the dog, 'it is because I thought that I was an elephant.'"
Mrs. Martin: "What's the moral?"
Fire Chief: "That's for you to find out." (251-253)
As we explain in our entry on the theme of "Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd," this story in many ways sums up the entire play and the philosophy of Absurdism itself. Of course, it's unclear as to whether the Fire Chief is at all aware of this. So, it's hard to know if he's a genius or an fool. Maybe, there's not as much difference between the two as most people might imagine.
Mary surprises us when she reveals that she and the Fire Chief were once lovers. The Chief confirms this and seems glad to see Mary again. Hey, maybe the Fire Chief is a bit of a ladies' man. Both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Martin also plant kisses on him.
It's unclear as to whether the Fire Chief has any real affection for Mary, though. He doesn't make any effort to stop the Smiths from pushing her offstage. Also, as far as we know, he doesn't go to see her before he leaves. Perhaps, like the rest of the characters of the play, the Fire Chief has the memory of a goldfish and simply forgets about her.
Like so many aspects of the play, much of the Fire Chief's character remains a mystery. Still, he manages to pack in more character in the few pages he's on stage than the Smiths do during the whole play. We're sticking to our guns on this one – the Fire Chief definitely wins for most complexity.