If there were a Wikipedia page for the Kearny Fire Department, it would have to include, at the very top, a photo of Deputy Chief Robert “Ozzie” Osborn. This is not meant to be disrespectful of the other men and women who have put on the uniform for Kearny’s Bravest — it’s just that for the last 38+ years, there are very few people who live and breathe their career the way Ozzie has. He is what makes the department the department.
He joined the KFD in the early ‘80s and all these years later, he is set to retire at the end of this month. With his retirement comes the end of an era, the end of a career that has spanned five different decades, numerous chiefs and huge changes to the way fires are fought.
Yet despite those countless changes, one thing has remained consistent — Ozzie.
He climbed his way up the ladder (no pun intended) from line firefighter to second in command very rapidly. He had chances to become the chief, but the truth is, that was the only role he never actually sought because too much of the chief’s time is spent — at a desk. (Again, no disrespect intended to the men who have sat behind that desk.)
If there is one place Ozzie just couldn’t be, it was behind a desk. For nearly 40 years, he was out there, on the front lines, either battling the fires himself or guiding his people on the best way to do so. He was jumping under garage doors to keep them from trapping his firefighters from getting out of burning buildings.
He was hopping in a vehicle caravan, heading to locations of natural disasters — like Hurricanes Katrina & Harvey — as a member of FEMA’s NJ Task Force 1, a compilation of the best first responders in America who are sent to save lives when the local fire responders just aren’t enough.
He’s been on the roof of Owens Corning, or inside the South Kearny substation, helping train the bravest in confined-space rescue. He’s been everywhere firefighters go because deep down, he is a firefighter’s firefighter.
After fires, he’s been known to bring journalists inside to see the damage so they might better understand how a fire started, spread, got out of control. He absolutely loved sharing his knowledge of the fire service to colleagues and anyone willing to listen — and man did he ever succeed at imparting it.
He leaves behind a legacy we’d imagine most would say is impossible, implausible to replace, replicate. He takes with him almost 40 years of experiences no new firefighters will ever learn of, perhaps the saddest part of his retirement. But his leaving — which comes long after his eligibility to do so — is one that is beyond well deserved.
Indeed, the Kearny FD will never be the same without him, but it is what it is today, in great deal, because of Ozzie’s contributions to it. Every single resident, to this day, benefitted from that. And we’re all lucky to have had him for as long as we have.
So we take this opportunity to congratulate Ozzie on his remarkable, unparalleled career — we wish him all the best as he moves on — and we owe him a debt of gratitude for all he gave of himself for the betterment of the Town of Kearny.
May his legacy live on in his firefighter brethren for many years to come.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.