The Village of Midway’s volunteer fire chief is retiring after decades of service in the community and surrounding area.
Asked why he’d put in for retirement this summer, Chief Walt Osellame told the Times, “I’m 66!”
He’d spent most of his life volunteering at fire and rescue services in the West Kootenays, he said, and it was time to make way for someone new at the helm.
“It’s been the quite the ride.”
Chief Oselleme said he never drew a pay check.
Neither did the rest of the department, which has been crewed and led by local volunteers stretching before the start of his tenure in 1990.
In that time, the department grew from 10 volunteers and one truck to 40 volunteers and a fleet of nine units.
Meanwhile, he served for 24 years as Principal Osellame at Boundary Central Secondary Secondary.
The outgoing chief extended “a huge thank you to all the members who came out to practice and serve in all weather conditions” throughout his volunteer career.
He stressed repeatedly that, “no one’s taken a nickel” for their service.
“We do it to help. That’s what fire service is about.”
Osellame said he’d seen to his duties as fire chief mostly “off the corner of his desk,” but said he’d advised Midway’s Chief Administrative Officer, Penny Feist, to offer his successor a paid contract.
In 30 years, Osellame said the job has gotten to be too big, and the responsibilities too many for a non-professional.
Midway Council agreed, and has posted the job.
The posting closes Friday, Sept. 25, according to the village website.
Osellame said he was proud that none of his fire fighters or rescuers were hurt on his watch.
That includes the great Rock Creek fire of 2015, when he said his entire staff was called out to rescue 200 people trapped by the flames at the Kettle River campground on Highway 33.
“It was a pretty horrific fire — one I’ll never forget.”
Chief Osellame officially retires Saturday, Oct. 31.