Windom fire chief suspended for allowing truck use for wedding photos
WINDOM -- A standing-room-only crowd inside the Windom City Council chambers Tuesday night broke into cheers and applause as Windom Fire Chief Dan Fossing and 27 members of the city's fire department walked single file into the room.
They were among nearly 150 people gathered for the meeting to show their support for the volunteer fire chief, whose position was threatened a week ago for disobeying a request not to take a fire truck off city property for personal use.
Fossing allowed a fire truck to leave the fire hall on July 11, so that a fellow firefighter could have a truck as part of his wedding photos. The truck was taken to a church within Windom's city limits.
A week ago, city officials raised the issue and discussed Fossing's possible termination. A 21-year member of the Windom Fire Department, Fossing has served as an assistant fire chief for 12 years before being named fire chief five years ago.
In recent days, Fossing had met with members of the city's personnel committee to work out an agreeable solution to the matter -- one that did not include his termination from the volunteer department.
After a nearly 30-minute closed session Tuesday night, during which time Fossing met privately with members of the City Council, the Windom City Council voted 4-1 to suspend Fossing from his position for 18 days, effective at 12:01 a.m. today.
Windom City Council member Bob Messer, who represented the city's personnel committee, read a statement when the meeting was reopened to the public.
Messer stated, "On September 14, 2009, the personnel committee unanimously recommended a suspension of Dan Fossing for six days for violating city policy, six days for insubordination and six days for non-permitted use of city equipment."
Fossing was granted permission to respond to the suspension. He said, "I was told by the City Administrator not to use a fire truck for personal use at a firefighters wedding. On July 11, 2009, I made the decision to allow the fire truck to be used for personal use. I take full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry."
Fossing also thanked his supporters for attending the meeting. Afterward, in an interview with the Daily Globe, he said that the situation was one in which neither side was a winner.
"I take full responsibility for what I did," he said. "Personally, I felt it was a little excessive -- the punishment for what the crime was."
On the other hand, Fossing said he will not be going against city wishes pertaining to personal use of city-owned property in the future.
"I truly feel like a worn-out lightning rod," he said. "It's been mostly positive stuff coming from the community and the surrounding area, but it's definitely been a long week."
Among those in the crowd for Tuesday night's meeting were eight men each from the Jackson and Mountain Lake fire departments, representatives from the Comfrey and Darfur departments, community members and Fossing's family.
Jackson Fire Chief Larry Olsen said he came to show his support for Fossing.
"I think the matter was so trivial that it really made me a little angry at first," Olsen said. He spoke of the role of a volunteer firefighter -- being on-call 24-7, 365 days a year; having to leave the supper table for a call or leave the wife and children to respond in a time of need.
"We stand behind each other," he said of firefighters. "I don't think I could find a better person to stand behind."
"(Dan) should be given an apology," Olsen added. "In fact, he should be given a service award."
Chuck Wolle, Mountain Lake fire chief, said he thought the threat of Fossing's termination was "absurd," adding that the dedication of a firefighter should be rewarded by allowing a fire truck to be in a photo on one of the most important days of his life.
"I think (Dan) is an excellent fire chief," Wolle said. "He's knowledgeable, he's safety conscious about his guys -- he's a novel firefighter as far as I'm concerned."
Windom Fire Department's second in command -- assistant fire chief Dan Ortmann -- waited with the crowd outside the Windom City Hall during the closed session. He, too, spoke of Fossing's dedication to the department.
"Dan is an excellent fire chief," Ortmann said. "He gives us great leadership. He's probably one of the nicest guys I've ever met."
Following Fossing's apology to the City Council, Mayor Kirby Kruse offered his appreciation not only to Fossing, but to the entire Windom Fire Department.
"I would like to express our gratitude to the fire department and to Dan for the terrific job and all the dedicated service that you do for the City of Windom," Kruse said. "Thank you."