Sunday, October 26, 2014

‘I did not make this career trip alone’

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/13/2014

“I hope that each day I can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Richard Oglesby, retiring assistant Ottawa fire chief, shared those sentiments on a recent employee evaluation form, Jeff Carner told Ottawa city commissioners at their June 4 meeting.

“I hope that each day I can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Richard Oglesby, retiring assistant Ottawa fire chief, shared those sentiments on a recent employee evaluation form, Jeff Carner told Ottawa city commissioners at their June 4 meeting.

“These words are more than just comments — they are a true reflection of Rick’s dedication and commitment,” Carner, Ottawa fire chief, said.

Oglesby, a 33-year veteran of the fire department and assistant chief since 1999, spent his last day in an official capacity at the fire department Friday. His retirement goes into effect June 20.

Sitting in Chief Carner’s office Tuesday morning, Oglesby reflected on his long career, which began Oct. 13, 1981, as a public safety officer when the city’s police and fire departments still were combined into one agency.

“I’m going to miss the family aspect of fire service and police service,” Oglesby said. “It’s a family oriented thing. You depend on each other so much, you build such a close relationship that you need each other and that camaraderie. We joke like brothers and sisters. I’ll miss that part of it but I don’t really plan on being a stranger. Hopefully, I’ll get to come back and see these guys.”

A need to provide for his young pregnant wife Susan brought Oglesby to the door of the city’s Department of Public Safety in March 1981, he said.

“I was laid off from construction work ... I filled out an application for the reserve program,” Oglesby said. “My oldest son was born on July 4th while I was a volunteer reserve. I was supposed to be working at a Chautauqua event, and instead I was at the hospital waiting for Anthony to join us on planet Earth.”

Oglesby was hired full time in October 1981 as a public safety officer.

“I was a patrol officer, basically,” Oglesby, who went through the Kansas law enforcement academy in Yoder, Kansas, said. “After being on the street, I eventually worked my way up to a corporal-type position called a Public Safety Officer I. It was a semi-supervisory role, and you had to learn how to dispatch because we did our own dispatch then — so you were a fill-in dispatcher, fill-in driver/engineer [for the fire service] when needed, you were a fill-in street supervisor when needed — you got to wear a bunch of different hats back in those days.”

While a public safety officer, Oglesby and Sgt. Bobbie Hawkins, a now 30-year veteran of the Ottawa Police Department, worked together and handled a number of domestic disturbances, he said.

“We really became domestic disturbance specialists and started handling those calls all over town, even if they weren’t in our district,” he said.

PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER

As a public safety officer, Oglesby said, splitting time as a patrolman and a firefighter was challenging.

“You were expected to stay sharp on all police skills and you were expected to fight fires and stay sharp on all those skills and supposed to be able to transition from one to the other just like that,” Oglesby said, snapping his fingers. “It was tough. We didn’t have near the training that we do now on both sides. Our jobs are more specific now, and the technology has changed so much. When I came to work here [at the fire department] we had an IBM PC Junior and that was the only computer in the whole building. Now we have computers everywhere. We can’t work without them now.”

While working the midnight shift in the police division, Oglesby said his patrol captain came to him one night and said the department was short a dispatcher so he would be dispatching for the next six months.

“I wasn’t real excited about being a dispatcher, so an opening came up for an additional driver [for a daytime fire shift] and I transferred to the fire division out of the police division — I basically started my career over and became a driver,” he said.

When the public safety department dissolved into separate police and fire branches in 1991, Oglesby said, he opted to stay with the fire department.

“We were a new department putting things together, Chief Carner and I had the experience and qualifications so we put our resume pieces together and both became state certified fire investigators,” Oglesby said. “We’ve both been involved in fire investigations for about 23 years or so.”

Carner and Oglesby said they both had served in several capacities within the fire department as they advanced through the ranks, both working together for more than 30 years. Carner, who also started his career with the city as a public safety officer — in 1983 — became fire chief in 1999, and Oglesby became assistant fire chief the same year.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to work with the entire group of people in the department [as assistant fire chief],” Oglesby said. “It’s kind of a unique position because it handles training, oversight of the [fire station] building’s maintenance, basically encompasses what a fire marshal’s position would in other departments — there are always plenty of things to stay busy and keep up on.”

Carner and Oglesby have not only served together as coworkers but have been friends for more than three decades, they said.

“As an organization, we’ve grown and expanded and developed, and [Oglesby] has been an essential part of all that,” Carner said. “We look constantly at where we are at and where we want to be and how we might get there, and I certainly appreciate the work he has done and I’ve always valued his opinion as well.”

OGLESBY’S

PRESENCE

Carner will miss Oglesby’s presence in the department, he said.

“His constant level of dedication has shown that he truly has a service-oriented approach to life,” Carner said. “He said he wants to help someone on a daily basis, and that’s the mind-set he’s approached his career with. In life in general, if more people had that approach, the world would be a far better place, in my opinion.”

Linda Reed, Ottawa mayor, presented Oglesby with a plaque during the city commission’s June 4 meeting to recognize his years of service to the community. During his remarks before the plaque presentation, Oglesby thanked the city for taking a chance on him 33 years ago.

“You saw value in what I might become and not what I was,” Oglesby said. “I’ve learned a lot about leadership and being a servant. The lessons and things I have learned will always be a part of my life.

“I never dreamed I would really be here this long — the lessons I learned, they altered my life.” Oglesby said. “I’ll never be able to sit with my back to a door in a restaurant again. I’ll never be able to go to a hotel without looking at the exit plan and checking out the sprinklers.”

On a more serious note, Oglesby said he also has been through some very difficult times. He was on the street when Det. Bruce Hanson was shot four times by a bank robbery suspect Feb. 26, 1990. The suspect, John Roy Bird, was shot and killed by Hanson in return gunfire.

“Bruce and I went through the [law enforcement] academy together. That was real tough,” Oglesby said of the shooting.

Oglesby also recalled the time a family perished in a mobile home fire.

“I’ve worked through some tough and trying times in the past — I’ve worked some of the biggest fires in recent city history,” Oglesby told city commissioners. “I did not make this career trip alone. But I made it with my wife, Susan, who has stood by my side the whole time. I know it was her prayers that kept me safe all these years, and there were many close calls. So I thank you, dear. My family means everything to me. And they always understood when I had to leave for a call or I didn’t get to come home. I say thank you to [my sons] Anthony, Jason and Timothy.”

As he contemplated retirement while sitting in the fire station Tuesday, Oglesby said he wanted to pursue his calling.

“I’ve had a ministerial calling all my life,” Oglesby, who met Susan at seminary in Dallas, said. The couple married in 1979 and moved to Ottawa that year, he said. “I’m an ordained minister, and I want to pursue opportunities to continue to use those skills. I have some speaking engagements already and I will continue to serve on different boards locally.”

Oglesby, who was raised in the Topeka and Lawrence area, is a member of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee but said he has no plans to run for office presently.

“I’m open to what the future may bring,” he said.

The department announced June 4 that Capt. Tim Matthias will succeed Oglesby as assistant fire chief. Matthias has 23 years of experience as a firefighter, including 17 years with the Ottawa Fire Department.

The department organized a retirement reception for Oglesby Friday afternoon at Ottawa Fire Department Station No. 1, 720 W. Second St.

“I know that it’s not easy to leave something that you have spent most of your life at, but I know a new chapter must be started for myself and for the department,” Oglesby said. “My prayer is that I leave it a better place than when I started.”

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