Embattled La. fire chief demoted after conduct probe
The board of St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12 voted to return embattled Fire Chief Steve Krentel to his previous job as chief of administration
By Sara Pagones
ST. TAMMANY, La. — The board of St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12 voted Thursday to return embattled Fire Chief Steve Krentel to his previous job as chief of administration.
The board had been expected to address the results of a five-month investigation into complaints about Krentel but instead deferred action on that matter until a special meeting set for May 24.
In the meantime, however, the board voted to remove Krentel as chief just as his probationary period came to an end, though members did not cast the decision as a disciplinary action.
He also continues to face potential disciplinary action following an investigation into complaints that were lodged against him by firefighter Tom Williamson.
Krentel said afterward that he did not view the step taken Thursday as any indication of which way the board is leaning concerning the investigation into accusations that he had an on-the-job romance with a co-worker, took department equipment to his home and tried to intimidate other firefighters.
He said the board was simply taking steps to protect the organization. "That's the smartest thing for them to do until this is resolved," he said.
Krentel said he believes he has been treated fairly and didn't view the board's action as punishment.
Thursday was the last day of Krentel's probation, and had the board not taken a vote, he would have been confirmed as chief by default, according to Mark Waniewski, who handles human resources for the board.
Krentel was confronted with accusations of wrongdoing by Williamson at a Civil Service Board meeting on Nov. 1, the first day he returned to work following the death of his wife months before.
Nanette Krentel was found dead of a gunshot wound in the burned wreckage of the couple's home in July. The St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office ruled her death a homicide.
St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith said Krentel had been cleared as a suspect, but the case remains unsolved.
Williamson was himself the target of two complaints, one of which accused him of contacting a board member when he had been told not to do so. The other accused him of making a false statement at a meeting, namely, that Krentel had not been cleared in his wife's death.
Williamson was put on paid administrative leave in January, prompting him to file a whistleblower lawsuit in 22nd Judicial District Court that claims he was the target of retaliation. That suit has since been moved to federal court.
But while the board on Thursday delayed acting on the Krentel investigation, which has generated 4,000 pages of statements and evidence, it ended a probe into the claim that Williamson made a false statement. In that case, it took no disciplinary action.
Williamson's attorney, Roy K. Burns Jr., said he believes there may be further action on the complaint that his client communicated with a board member.