Orange County Fire Authority Chief Keith Richter, under pressure due to a critical audit and the loss of support from the firefighters union, announced today that he would retire, effective Aug. 29.
Richter, hired in 2009, makes about $373,000 per year. In resigning, he cited recent controversies that "placed me in a position of being a distraction," according to a departmental memo. The OCFA board will replace him.
"Chief Richter has spent his life in public service, keeping homes and families and responding in times of emergency," OCFA Board Chairman and Dana Point City Councilman Steven Weinberg said. "We thank him for his service and will begin a search to our next chief as soon as possible."
An audit released last month painted the department of roughly 900 firefighters covering 23 cities as one plagued by bullying, professional favoritism and a lack of accountability.
Separately, an investigation found that firefighters had disabled alarms on some seat belts in fire trucks after a captain in Buena Park was thrown through the window of a truck in a wreck March 13, 2013. The audit found the OCFA billed businesses more than $1.7 million for hazardous materials inspections, dating back to fiscal 2011-12, that were not done or could not be verified.
Another OCFA board member, Tustin Mayor Al Murray, said the next chief would be asked to "move our agency forward and address these issues head on."
According to a report in January, 28 OCFA firefighters had an annual compensation of more than $300,000, and 565 were compensated more than $200,000. The highest paid was a deputy chief who made $392,599.
When an email surfaced last year about a special meeting for ambulance companies in advance of bidding on an OCFA contract, county supervisors scolded administrators, saying it smacked of favoritism. The state later stripped the agency of its authority to choose its ambulance contractors.
In February, the membership of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association said they no longer supported Richter.
--City News Service