By Sara Pagones
ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — Steve Krentel, who was demoted last week from his position as chief of St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12, will be suspended without pay for 60 days and will have to reimburse the district for two air-conditioning units that he took from ambulances.
The Covington-area fire district's board met in executive session for nearly three hours Thursday before voting to discipline Krentel, who was accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a co-worker and taking department equipment, among other charges.
The board said Krentel had inappropriate relationships with two women in the department. He had previously acknowledged one relationship but insisted that it happened when he was not the woman's supervisor.
But the board read out findings that referred to a “Jane Doe 1” and a “Jane Doe 2.” The second relationship occurred while Krentel was the district's chief, the board's statement indicated.
Krentel told the board he would not appeal their decision.
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Roy K. Burns Jr., the attorney for firefighter Tom Williamson, who brought the complaint against Krentel, blasted the board for what he called a failure to “make Fire District 12 great again,” a slogan that appeared on hats worn by several members of the audience.
“St. Tammany Parish is not a backwoods banana republic,” Burns said, arguing that Krentel should have been fired. “You can say one woman, Jane Doe, but it's a pattern of not one but two women. Yet he still has a job. His actions affected everyone in the department.”
Burns said the fire district has a hostile work environment. “Are you going to hire any female employees and put them in the office with him?” he said. “Why don't we have a female on this board? They would have made quick work of him.”
The board cleared Krentel of wrongdoing in a number of other issues, including the purchase of a washer and dryer for the station, the installation of a ventilation hood and complaints about his living in the fire station after his house burned down in July.
The body of Krentel's wife, Nanette, was found in the wreckage of the burned home. She had died of a gunshot wound. The death, ruled a homicide, remains unsolved.
The board also cleared Krentel of wrongdoing in bringing a gun to the fire district headquarters, removing decals and trying to intimidate other firefighters, including his accusers.
Williamson said the board had failed to remove the stain on the agency. “The stain is still here,” he said. “That's why we're all here, myself and all the firemen and their families.” He said he had already asked for Krentel to resign but now was asking the board to quit.
Chairman Steve Swanson said the board was trying to respect the proper process for handling complaints, adding that it has taken longer than he had thought it would.
The complaints, originally lodged with the fire district's Civil Service Board on Nov. 1, were turned over to the Board of Commissioners for an investigation that has lasted more than five months.
When the board met last week, it said it needed more time to consider whether to take any disciplinary action against Krentel.
But also at that meeting, the board voted to remove Krentel as chief, noting that his 12-month probationary period in that position was about to end. Members did not cast that decision as a disciplinary move.
Michael Haley has been named provisional chief, and Krentel has resumed his former position as chief of administration. He said he would not appeal his demotion.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service