The process of hiring a new fire chief will begin immediately, city officials said, though formal recruitment for the position probably won’t start until January.
Fire Chief Kenneth King announced his retirement Wednesday, hours after apologizing for an email he sent last year during the Cole Creek Fire asking a fire investigator to delete “bad parts” of video evidence.
King will step down Jan. 2, 2018 — a date the chief selected himself, city manager V.H. McDonald said. King declined to explain his decision to retire and his selection of the date when contacted by the Star-Tribune on Friday, saying he wanted to keep the decision “low key.” King is required to give only 30 days notice before leaving his position, according to his employment contract.
The 14-month period between the announcement and King’s retirement allows the city more time to hire a new chief, though that wasn’t why the date was selected, McDonald said.
“There’s a little bit of fortune with that because it takes so long to find a replacement,” he said.
In the next few weeks, staff will research the process used to hire the past two chiefs, McDonald said. City leaders will then decide whether they will recruit from outside of the department and how they will evaluate candidates. Both King and his predecessor, Mark Young, were hired from within Casper Fire-EMS.
“The process is going to be long and deliberate,” he said. “It’s got to be a carefully thought-out process.”
McDonald hoped to formally open the job search by January 2017 but said he wouldn’t be surprised if it took longer. City staff will soon be busy creating next year’s budget and preparing for spring projects, McDonald said, and cuts in the human resources department due to the economic downturn will also slow down the hiring process.
Former city manager John Patterson hired King as fire chief in July 2013 after Young announced his retirement in May of that year. King had held various positions within the department since he joined in 1980, including the division chief of operations, the division chief of training, a captain, a fire engineer and a firefighter.
The Casper Fire-EMS Department consists of five stations and more than 70 employees. The fire chief reports directly to the city manager.
The email King sent during the Cole Creek Fire last year became public last week when the Star-Tribune published a story about it — 10 days before King’s retirement announcement.
King sent the email to Devin Garvin, who was helping collect evidence for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the state fire marshal’s office, on Oct. 14, 2015, as the fire continued to engulf rural Evansville. By the time the fire was extinguished two days later, it had destroyed 14 homes and charred about 10,000 acres.
“Could you cut out the bad parts, and make sure that no copies are made and only DCI views?” King wrote in the email.
King later told the Star-Tribune the email had been a joke. He apologized for the email Wednesday, hours before announcing his retirement.
“I deeply regret my insensitive words and lack of judgement,” King wrote in a letter released after noon Wednesday. “Words simply cannot express how truly sorry I am for the way my actions have offended and embarrassed members of the community and the City organization.”