Osseo Considers Transition to Full-Time Fire Chief
The city of Osseo may transition its fire chief position a full-time role before the current chief decides to retire.
Osseo Fire Chief Mike Phenow told the Osseo City Council on July 24 that the next chief ought to be a full-time staff member.
“I’ve come around to more thinking about, not why would we do this, [but] why haven’t we done this 20 or 30 years ago,” Phenow said. “It’s kind of odd that we’ve lasted this long.”
Phenow oversees the paid-on-call Osseo Fire Department on a part-time basis.
“I am not planning to retire soon, per se,” Phenow wrote in an email to CCX News. “After 17 years on the department and four years as chief, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the right next step for the department to continue to be successful in serving the community.”
If Osseo creates the position as a full-time job, Phenow does not plan to apply.
“I have a full time career as a director of software engineering,” he said.
Phenow said he would likely stay on staff to help the new hire transition into the role.
“I would then retire as I don’t think it is wise to stick around because it would hinder the new chief’s ability to be successful in the new role,” he said.
Need for a Full-Time Fire Chief
The demands of overseeing the 20-30 member department require a full-time chief, according to Phenow.
“It becomes more and more important to develop well-designed programs for both onboarding new hires (an FTO, or Field Training Officer program) and for developing aspiring officers,” Phenow wrote to the council in a memo. “Developing, implementing, and executing these programs is important, challenging, and ongoing work for a chief. It is not something that someone can expect to succeed at after they’ve already put in 40+ hours at their day job.”
Likewise, a full-time staff member can better oversee large projects for the future of the department, Phenow wrote.
“One of our trucks is approaching the end of its serviceable life and will need to be replaced,” he wrote. “And then there’s the question of whether or not operating an independent, municipal paid-on-call fire department is the best way to deliver fire protection services to the residents and businesses of Osseo. All of these are big, hairy problems that deserve serious time and attention. It is not appropriate or fair to the citizens and taxpayers of Osseo for these projects to be managed by someone in their spare time.”
According to Phenow, a full-time chief could perform other duties to help offset their higher salary costs.
For instance, the new chief could conduct the city’s fire inspections and some of the department’s administrative work.
Phenow estimated there is around $30,000 in labor costs that could be offset through the new position.
Council Moves Ahead
The city would likely pay a full-time chief around $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
The council was willing to consider making the position full-time, but only after a lengthy discussion.
“What else are we literally going to do?,” Council Member Mark Schulz said. “I mean sure, we don’t probably want to create a new staff position at that pay scale. It’s not high on our list of things to do. But if we don’t do it, then what happens?”
If approved, Phenow said he would like to see the new position included in the 2024 city budget.
Click here to view the full discussion.