Most people who move to the Island have a grace period to learn the tricky street names, quirky personalities and unique rhythms of the Vineyard. But on Monday that grace period came to abrupt end for Chief Jason Olsen, station commander for the U.S. Coast Guard station at Menemsha. Chief Olsen, 35, took command just six weeks ago.

And he was not on base when the fire started Monday afternoon that eventually destroyed the station’s historic boathouse, the pier around it and an unknown number of boats in the harbor, because he was in the final stages of moving his family to the Island.

“I was actually returning our U-Haul on the mainland,” the chief said during an interview in his office on Wednesday.

When he received word of the raging fire, Chief Olsen rushed back immediately, arriving on the scene less than an hour after fire was first reported.

“This isn’t exactly how I planned this, but I’m adjusting,” he said with a tired smile on Wednesday that told only part of the story. “This isn’t exactly how I wanted to meet everyone on the Island, but that’s okay. I’m getting to know the Island in a hurry.”

And as if being new to the Vineyard wasn’t enough, this is also his first command.

During his 14-year career he has been stationed all over the country — from Sandy Hook, N.J. to Fort Pierce, Fla. After serving as second in command at Fort Macon, N.C., he was sworn in as station commander on May 27, taking over for outgoing senior chief Jason Barr.

Since then, as Chief Olsen has been busy learning the ropes and arranging to move his family — his wife, Andrea, their one-year-old daughter, Emma, and 11-year-old son Josh — to the Island. He is still settling in, but is glad his family is with him now.

“I hope they understand my crew needs me, that the community needs me. There will be some long days ahead, I am sure, for everyone at the station, and that includes me. I am no exception,” he said.

In his office there are framed photos of his wedding day and a portrait of his son wearing a San Francisco Giants cap, but there are also mementos of a career spent in the U.S. Coast Guard: a plaque from the crew at Fort Macon wishing him Fair Winds and Following Seas, one stating Good Luck, Flyboy, and another honoring him as the Sailor of the Quarter.

He loves his career and has distinguished himself at every stop, but admits he didn’t always dream of a career in the military growing up in San Diego. “This was not my plan. I was working as a valet [parking cars] when I was 21 years old, and I realized I had to get on with my life. I saw this ad for the Coast Guard and thought it was a great idea,” he said.

At first he was more interested in the G.I. Bill, which helps members of the armed services pay for college. But soon after becoming a Coastie, the informal term for members of the Coast Guard, he was hooked. “I really wanted to do search and rescue and save people. I got into it; I realized this wasn’t just a stop along the way,” he said.

Switching back to Monday, Chief Olsen had heartfelt praise for his crew’s response to the fire. He said one of the crew members, identified later as petty officer Patrick Bryant, was working out in the weight room in the boathouse, when he smelled smoke and went outside to investigate.

Mr. Bryant realized it wasn’t safe to call authorities from inside the boathouse, and ran to the Coast Guard station up the hill, where several crew members had already noticed the flames and smoke. One of the men called 911, though the communications center had already received several calls, and they all ran down to the dock.

Because they couldn’t access the pier, they ran around the back of the Galley restaurant and jumped into an inflatable boat operated by harbor master Dennis Jason, who ferried them over to the Coast Guard’s 47-foot cutter tied to the dock. The crew jumped on board and motored her to safety, and then turned the boat’s water hoses on the flames.

“They helped prevent the fire from moving down the dock, where it could have engulfed more boats and the cars that were at the end of the pier . . . they were awesome,” he said.

Although the boathouse contained a 1,000-gallon diesel tank and a 500-gallon gasoline tank, Chief Olsen said the safety features shut off the fuel supply and the piping underneath the wooden dock remained intact and did not leak. But he admits there were some tense moments.

He said it will take time to recover from the loss of the boathouse, which was not only a landmark in the village but an integral part of the station.

“The men put a lot of blood and sweat into it. They built the gym, painted the place, made it their own. We stored all our equipment in there, all our tools and parts, it was pretty much our work area. So there are definitely some emotions right now,” he said.

For the time being the Menemsha station is not providing regular coverage of the waters around the Vineyard; that coverage is being provided by other Coast Guard stations and the 110-foot patrol boat Sanibel based out of Woods Hole. Chief Olsen hopes the station will be back in business soon, perhaps as soon as today.

But even if it takes a few more days, there is still much to be done. On Wednesday crew members were busy readying the station for a visit by Coast Guard Adm. Daniel Neptun, who oversees District 1 that spans from northern Jersey to Maine.

As if moving here six weeks ago, taking his first command and leading Menemsha Station through the worst disaster in its 68-year history wasn’t enough, Chief Olsen now had to prepare for a visit by one of the top ranking officers in the Coast Guard. But like so many challenges of recent weeks and days, he takes it in stride.

“He’s just coming here to check on the men and inspect the site [of the fire], that’s all,” he said.

Looking back over the last week he tried to put things in perspective, comparing the fire to a rescue at sea, something he has done many times in the past 14 years. “The men are trained to deal with catastrophes. This is what we do. These men go out in the water sometimes in the worst conditions, so we’ll get through this,” he said adding: “Because we have to.”