Osseo Fire Chief Resigns Amid Department Unrest
Leadership changes are coming to the Osseo Fire Department.
Osseo Fire Chief Mike Phenow has resigned effective Sept. 25.
The city has named Osseo Fire Captain Mike Cogswell interim fire chief, pending city council approval.
Strife Follows Osseo Fire Department Policy Changes
Phenow wrote in his three-page letter of resignation that he is stepping away from the role of chief because “a large portion of the fire department has withdrawn their support of my leadership of the departments.”
The decision appears to follow internal strife within the department.
On Sept. 11, 10-year Osseo firefighter Drew Cogswell went before the Osseo City Council to say he was resigning his post. He’s also vice president of the Osseo Fire Department Relief Board.
The fire department operates on a paid-on-call response model. Cogswell said that with newer fire department policies, he did not meet the department’s minimum call response requirement.
“I lost my way, I’ll admit it whole-heartedly,” he said. “I got that passion back. Passion that I’ve been missing for a while.”
A group of firefighters attended the meeting with Cogswell.
He said that he hopes to reapply to the fire department at a later date.
“I don’t think I’m done here,” he said.
Cogswell is Osseo Fire Captain Mike Cogswell’s son.
Mike Phenow Stepping Away from Osseo Fire Department
Phenow makes reference to the incident in his letter of resignation, which is dated Sept. 14.
According to Phenow, firefighters are required to respond to one call every five days, or 17 calls per quarter. This policy was first implemented in spring 2022.
The policy was later amended to allow for more flexibility, according to Phenow.
“Despite these facts, unbeknownst to me, on Monday, September 11th, a sizable contingent of Osseo firefighters turned out, unannounced, to a council meeting to publicly support the renouncement and circumvention of our policies,” Phenow wrote.
Phenow continued, saying he cannot make retroactive exemptions to department policies.
“I also cannot in good conscience recommend the rehire of individuals who would organize coordinated political action to gain sympathy and support for the effective circumvention of the department’s policies,” he wrote. “Given the obvious and public support of these actions by multiple other firefighters, for me to either faithfully execute the policy or to decline to rehire an applicant who couldn’t adhere to them or exercise reasonable professional judgment, would seem to risk a mass exodus. Given the prospect of the community losing multiple compliant firefighters alongside one non-compliant firefighter or the alternative of the community losing one chief who has already recommended that the city hire his replacement, I cannot in good conscience risk jeopardizing the safety of the community.”
He asked any other firefighters that may “be tempted to quit to express their disapproval or to show solidarity” to continue serving the community.
Next Osseo Fire Chief
This summer, Phenow asked the Osseo City Council to consider making the fire chief position full-time in 2024. He told CCX News that he would likely stay on with the department until the city hired a full-time chief.
The Osseo City Council included funding for the full-time position in the 2024 preliminary budget.
If approved by the Osseo City Council, Mike Cogswell will serve as interim fire chief starting Sept. 26. He will continue to serve in that capacity “for an indefinite period,” according to city documents.