Omaha Fire Chief Retires

Memo of Understanding

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Omaha Fire Chief Mike McDonnell is stepping down. He has agreed to retire, effective immediately.

According to a news release from the mayor's office, McDonnell will receive service credit to retire with 25-years service. He actually has 23-years, 10 months. In return, Mayor Stothert will delay any layoffs of firefighters until July.

The 47-year-old McDonnell will make $130,800 a year for the rest of his life. "I'm very proud of my record," said McDonnell, standing outside the downtown fire house. "It will stand on its own - regardless of someone playing politics with it."

Since she took office, Mayor Jean Stothert made it clear -- she wanted him out. "I think that department can be better led and better run with a new chief," she said in June.

She officially put the terms in writing on Friday. McDonnell came back on Monday with a counter-offer.

The 16 firefighters and 3 assistant chiefs will keep their jobs under the agreement. And only one medic unit (Medic 3 in South Omaha) is in jeopardy of being taken out of service.

"If my retirement will keep the citizens and firefighters who serve them safer - then I'm willing to do that," said McDonnell.

Mayor Jean Stothert says the fire department will stick to the $90.6-million budget for 2014. The delayed layoffs will be offset by other cuts -- attrition is one option. "I have a chief that will actually stay within the budget," she said.

McDonnell -- who in 2008 at age 43 -- became the youngest fire chief in Omaha's history -- says he's most proud of another milestone. "Not losing a citizen for three consecutive years. We've never done that in 153 years of the department."

As fire chief McDonnell prepares for retirement and goodbyes, he won't be critical about Mayor Stothert -- and vice versa. The agreement says both sides won't say anything disparaging.

Mayor Jean Stothert has agreed not to lay-off any firefighters until at least July 1, 2014 to allow the new Fire Chief to evaluate the needs of the department and make recommendations to the mayor.

Additionally the mayor has agreed to retain three Assistant Fire Chiefs through the end of 2014.

Mayor Stothert has named Battalion Chief Bernard Kanger as the interim Fire Chief. Kanger has served on the department since 1991 and has been a Battalion Chief for the past seven years.

The mayor is quoted in the statement as saying, "Bernie Kanger has the training, skills and experience to lead the Omaha Fire Department." She added, "His boots on the ground experience has earned the respect of his fellow firefighters."

Mayor Stothert said, "These changes are in the best interest of the City of Omaha and will move the fire department ahead in a positive manner."

According to the statement from the mayor, Bernard Kanger's 25-year career in public service includes fire protection and prevention, suppression, hazardous material mitigation and medical services. He earned a Master of Science Degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University in 2008 and a Bachelor of Arts in Fire Service Management from Western Illinois University in 2002.

Kanger is a veteran of the United States Air Force. He has also served on the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association and the Elkhorn Suburban Fire District Board. He is also a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team manager.

McDonnell is required to turn in his keys and other city equipment by 10 a.m. Tuesday.

As part of the agreement, Assistant Chief Scott Baughman will be allowed to stay on until his retirement in late October.

McDonnell had said that he needed an additional $4-million to maintain the levels of service.

Stothert says she expects the city council to approve the fire budget at $90.6-million.

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