Embattled La. fire chief announces plans to retire

Chief Steve Krentel said his departure is not the result of efforts to oust him, but that the "headaches" at work are making it easier to leave

By Sara Pagones
The Advocate

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — Steve Krentel, whose leadership at a Covington-area fire district has been under assault since last fall, will retire as of Sept. 1, he told the St. Tammany Fire Protection District 12 board of commissioners in a letter Thursday.

Krentel, whose wife was killed nearly a year ago, said in a phone interview that he had always planned to retire as soon as he was eligible to do so.

His departure is not the result of efforts by some other firefighters to oust him, he said, but he added that the "headaches" at work are making it easier to leave.

Krentel was demoted from his position as fire chief by the board last month. A week later, the board announced that they had found merit in two of a long list of complaints lodged by firefighter Tom Williamson.

Williamson filed the complaints the day that Krentel returned to work following his wife's death.

Nanette Krentel's body was found in the burned wreckage of the couple's Lacombe home last July. She had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head, and the case remains unsolved, but Sheriff Randy Smith has publicly cleared Steve Krentel as a suspect.

Williamson accused Krentel of having an affair with a subordinate and of taking Fire District 12 equipment, among other allegations.

The board found that Krentel had engaged in inappropriate relationships with two women who worked at the fire district and said that he took air-conditioning units from ambulances that had been used in the district's short-lived ambulance service.

The board said Krentel had to reimburse the district for the AC units and ordered a 60-day suspension without pay as punishment for having relations with employees.

Williamson appealed the board's decision to the Fire District's civil service board, arguing that the former chief, whose demotion returned him to the job of chief of administration, had committed offenses that warranted firing.

Krentel said that he and his wife had long planned for him to retire as soon as he turned 50, which will happen Aug. 16. He already had enough years to retire, he said, with more than 20 years of service with the same fire district, but has not been old enough.

He said he is not sure what he will do post-retirement.

In his letter to the board, Krentel cited his wife's death and alluded to the complaints made against him.

"As you know, the last year has brought significant tragedy in my personal life and great challenges as an employee of (Fire District) No. 12. It is therefore necessary and appropriate for me to announce my retirement from our agency effective September 1, 2018," he wrote.

Krentel's letter went on to say that he holds no ill will toward the district, "despite the difficulties I have faced at work," adding that he was honored to devote more than 20 years of service to the organization.

"The opportunity to serve in multiple capacities at FD12 has given me more fulfillment and life-changing experiences than one could possible ask for," he wrote.

Copyright 2018 The Advocate

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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