The Problem With Wearing Two Hats

Pipestone Flyer

            Norm Osness, Former Thorsby Fire Chief, remains at a loss to explain why he was forced to hang up his helmet by then Interim CAO, Kevin Robins. Council and Administration are on record saying his dismissal was not related to his role as fire chief; rather due to a “Management issue.”  

        Osness, a resident of Thorsby and business owner of Alberta Fire Gear Cleaning, said the problem started when he spoke out as a business owner on behalf of other business owners.  

        “I spoke up for two businesses in the Village (Thorsby) Office lobby. They agreed with our concerns.  I was invited to a meeting of staff and managers and a week later, I was fired.  I have absolutely no idea what is going on. Robins then went to the fire hall and rudely spoke to the men.  They stuck up for me.”  And in a show of solidarity, they resigned.

        Osness said he then went to see CAO Jason Gariepy, along with Assistant Chief Darryl Knopp and Deputy Chief Neil Filipic, on the Thursday following Gariepy’s appointment on February 18, “I was hoping for a second chance and was hoping to give the firefighters a second chance. We even told him the firefighters would be back on the job the next day. But he said no.”

        Osness says he wishes the Interim Fire Chief the best of luck.  “I don’t know what the whole objective is. They spent a whole year’s budget in one week after we offered to come back.  I don’t get it and neither do the guys.”

        When asked to elaborate on the meaning of “Management issue,” Osness said Robins asked him if he considered himself a “manager.”  Osness said no—because he was never specifically invited to take part in any management meetings or discussions.  In fact, Osness said the extent of his being a manager was to provide Council with a yearly budget in person. “I suppose I was, but I didn’t think I was considered a manager. No one talked to me like I was a manager; I was just Chief.” 

        Digging deeper, could Osness have been infringing on some Fire Department policy or in breach of Village of Thorsby policy when he expressed his opinion wearing his business owner’s hat?  When he became Fire Chief, was he required to take an oath to refrain from publicly disagreeing with any administrative stand?

        “No!  There are no rules, no oaths, nothing.  I wish they had told me the rules. In fact, twelve years ago, we made rules for the fire department—dress codes, how to address people at an accident scene, responsibilities…” etc. Osness looked at the whole picture while developing that policy. He was concerned for the families of the firefighters under his watch, so he had the spouses sign a document explaining what being married to a firefighter was all about and they had to be on board. 

        Osness said he met Robins only two times on a “How ya doing?” basis during the few months he was Interim CAO.  He wonders why his elected officials would take the word of a guy who was here for such a short time and not the words of twenty-two guys in the fire department…guys who live, work, own businesses and property in the community.  Norm Osness, who wore two hats—as a Fire Chief and as a business owner—wants you to know, “We asked to come back.”

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