Steve LeClair knew Tuesday’s news of the day long before it hit the airwaves. News of Omaha Fire Department Chief Bernie Kanger’s retirement officially came from city hall late Tuesday afternoon. LeClair, president of the Omaha Firefighters Union, told reporters later on that night that he had heard retirement rumblings months ago.
“I just went to the chief, and said, ‘Hey, what’s happening? This is what I’m hearing, that you are leaving and that you’re going to retire and be the Chief of Eppley Fire,’” LeClair said. “[Chief Kanger] was very direct also and said, ‘I’m eligible to leave in April and that’s all I can say.’”
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said she learned of the resignation when Chief Kanger sent her office a letter Tuesday. Stothert tapped Kanger to fill the position in March 2014. Mike McDonnell retired after a public war of words with administrators over fire department services and budgets.
“The decision for any employee, including the fire chief to retire is theirs. It’s their personal decision,” Mayor Stothert told reporters in her office Tuesday afternoon. “[Bernie Kanger] has been an excellent fire Chief. He’s not only a good manager for the department, but he is extremely good in operations.”
Chief Kanger remained active after taking the top fire position. Our cameras caught him working along firefighters at several high-profile fires following his appointment.
LeClair said Kanger’s departure happened too soon.
“I hope [the department] doesn’t become a revolving door. It seems to be heading in that direction. I don’t think that’s good for any interested parties. For that, I mean members of the OFD and local 385, nor the citizens of Omaha,” said LeClair. “I think there are some incredible candidates internally. I know all of them.”
LeClair welcomed a national search for the position too. Kanger’s last day was set for May 6. Stothert said it was too soon to talk specifics of the hiring timeline. She said a search would be well underway by the time an interim chief was appointed May 7.
The mayor’s office said Kanger’s base salary was $158,107.56. LeClair and Stothert said new candidates would be subject to the same hiring policies as Kanger was required to pass.
Neither Chief Kanger nor Eppley Officials would comment on today’s resignation.