Osseo splits vote in rehiring former fire chief back as a firefighter

The Osseo City Council spent some time discussing the approval of rehiring former fire chief Gary Current as a city firefighter, during its Monday, Aug. 13 meeting.

A separate story from the meeting will appear in next week’s paper.

The council heard a request that former Fire Chief Gary Current had applied to rejoin the Osseo Fire Department. Current was recommended by Acting Fire Chief Pat McGrane and the officers of the Osseo Fire Department.

City Administrator Douglas Reeder said there was a background check done on Current by the police department. “That check appears to be okay,” he said.

Current would be subject to recertified as a First Responder and that he would be update to date in Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 training.

A motion was made by Councilor Duane Poppe and seconded by Councilor Mark Schulz to approve the rehiring of Current.

Mayor Al Lindquist started the discussions. He said the Human Resources Committee looked into the rehiring along with a background check that included some things that had alerted him.

“Because of this I looked into it a little bit,” he said. “I assured Gary Current there is nothing personal about my inquiry. It’s just that I wanted to find out the information.”

The mayor continued that he called the Acting Fire Chief to get more information regarding the background check, but did not hear back from him. Lindquist said he was concerned with Current. “There are some issues with Mr. Current that deal with judgment,” he added.

Mayor Lindquist said he spoke with a human resources director from the League of Minnesota Cities, who said the city could be liable if something were to happen during a fire call.

Lindquist went on to say that Current has had two DWIs, has been in the workhouse and will be on probation until 2014. The mayor said he spoke with firefighters from around the area and the consensus was that firefighters are involved in dangerous activities where high levels of responsibility are necessary.

“If the employee is in anyway impaired, it puts himself and others at a severe risk,” Mayor Lindquist said. “Employees of the fire department must meet high standards. Mr. Current, based on his decisions that he has made in the near past, doesn’t meet those high standards of responsibility and hiring him would put the city at unreasonable liability.”

Councilor Poppe asked when the DWIs occurred. Mayor Lindquist had City Attorney Loren Magsam read the police record, which is public record. Magsam said the first DWI occurred in January 2008 and the second in February 2010.

Councilor Schulz asked if a background check was done, as is done with all future employees, before the council was recommended to rehire. Administrator Reeder said a normal background check was done.

“We just had Mr. Magsam read from a document that I don’t have in my packet for consideration,” Schulz said. “My question, where did this document that we are referring to come from?”

Mayor Lindquist said it was public information once some is found guilty of the incident. He added he asked Acting Chief Pat McGrane for the information and did not receive it, so he went and found the record.

Councilor Rick Weber asked McGrane how many new firefighters has the department hired in the last 18 months. McGrane said there were seven.

“Mr. Mayor, you’ve been mayor for 18 months roughly, how many of these other seven firefighters did you do the same background checks on?” Weber asked.

Mayor Lindquist said in their documents he didn’t believe background checks were needed or were completed.

“Well, I don’t normally think you would go into this depth, but in this case it’s important to realize that the severity of a firefighter’s job and the fact that other lives are in his hands,” Lindquist added. “I think it’s important to look at the background to see what his judgment has been in the past.”

Schulz asked, in the past 18 months, how many background checks were done before a person is hired to be an employee for the city. Police Chief Tom Hartkopf said all people have a background check before they are hired and the checks are done by the department’s administrative assistant.

Schulz said the mayor was asking to vote on something the entire council did not have in front of them or before the meeting.

Mayor Lindquist said he would be okay with looking at the request in 2014, after Current is off of probation.

Scott Reagan, former 20-year Osseo Firefighter, said he served with Current on the department and that Current had learned his lesson. “Ahead of you and behind you, you need to know that your crew is sound,” he added. “And, I myself, would go into any fire with Mr. Current.”

The council voted 3 to 2 to approve the hiring of firefighter Gary Current; Mayor Lindquist and Councilor Allan Hartkopf voted against.