Tuesday, Aug 14, 2018
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Toledo Fire Chief Santiago announces retirement

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    Toledo Fire Chief Luis A. Santiago speaks directly to the class during the graduation ceremony of Toledo Fire Department fire class 292 at Bowsher High School in Toledo on Friday, May 18, 2018.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago speaks during the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department's 56th Annual Memorial Service to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty, Friday, June 9, 2017, at Chub DeWolfe Park in Toledo.

    The Blade
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This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. to include comments from Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt and police Chief George Kral.

Toledo Fire and Rescue Department Chief Luis Santiago announced his retirement Wednesday, a proclamation met with declarations of admiration from city leaders, including the head of the union that only three years ago slammed the chief with an overwhelming no-confidence vote. 

Chief Santiago said he expects to remain in the position until his retirement, effective Aug. 3.

“It has been a privilege leading this great department, which is full of talented and dedicated men and women,” Chief Santiago said in a letter to department members, which was provided to The Blade. “It is and was truly an honor serving as fire chief. I wish nothing but the best for the department and the city of Toledo.”

Chief Santiago joined the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department in May, 1984. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1988, captain in 1993, battalion chief in 2000, and assistant chief in 2007.

He was named the department’s first Hispanic fire chief on July 2, 2011. He took over for retiring Fire Chief Mike Wolever.

Toledo Firefighters Local 92 — which represents firefighters up to the rank of captain — in May, 2015 voiced no confidence in Chief Santiago by a vote of 319-46. Union officials criticized him for poor leadership, repeatedly calling for his resignation. Previous union leadership had blasted the chief for policies cited in a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report regarding the January, 2014, on-duty deaths of two firefighters, Pvts. Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman.

But in December, 2017 union officials announced their relationship with the chief had improved. In the wake of his retirement announcement Wednesday, Local 92 President Jeff Koenigseker said a line of communication had been reopened between the union and the administration, with the two sides speaking often. He called called Chief Santiago a “solid civil servant” and  wished him well.

There will be a seamless continuation of emergency service for residents during the transition to a new chief, the union president said.

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said he learned of the chief’s planned retirement late last week. He praised his leadership and also commended his work to repair strained relationships with union officials.

 “I’m going to be sad to see him retire,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “He has given literally his entire adult life to the Toledo Fire Department. I believe he became a firefighter when he was 21, and for 34 years he has sacrificed on behalf of the city. I have nothing but respect for him and his work.”

Mr. Kapszukiewicz also said he did not ask the chief to retire and added that he will be difficult to replace.

Chief Santiago was away on vacation Wednesday, through next week. He did not respond to a message from The Blade.

Now, it’s ultimately up to Mayor Kapszukiewicz to appoint the next fire chief.

He said he has a “short list” of people within the department, including Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt, but also will consider looking at outside candidates.

“There’s some folks I think could be good. Karen’s one of them, but there’s a couple others,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “We’ll spend the next month or so having some informal talks and bouncing ideas around, and I know we’ll come up with someone good and it will be someone who will be in the position of building on the good work Chief Santiago has done.”

Assistant Chief Marquardt said it is an honor to be considered. 

“Whatever the process is that the mayor is going to put forth, I think myself and many other good people will be interested,” she said. 

“I’m going to do whatever job I’m given. I’m happy just to be part of the organization,” she added. 

During a March interview with The Blade, Chief Santiago said Assistant Chief Marquardt would make a “very good chief” and she is “very well equipped” to take over the position whenever he plans to retire.

In the March interview, Chief Santiago did not specify when he intended on retiring, but he said he was taking more vacations and relying on his right-hand assistant chief to oversee the department while he was gone.

Chief Santiago, who is part of the deferred retirement option plan, would have to retire by March, 2020.

In a statement, police Chief George Kral wished Chief Santiago a happy retirement. The fire chief helped Chief Kral settle into the role and has been a good friend, he said.

“The Toledo Fire and Rescue Department is one of the best fire departments in the country thanks to Lou. I will miss his company, sense of humor, and camaraderie,” Chief Kral said.

Chief Santiago holds various certificates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Incident Management System and the United States Coast Guard. He is a member of the Lucas County Fire Chiefs, the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The chief serves on Toledo Zoo Foundation Board, Toledo Fire Museum Board, and is a founding board member for the Toledo Fire & Rescue Foundation.

He has also served on the Advisory Board of the State Fire School of Bowling Green State University, and the Board of Trustees of Knight Academy. He was trustee of the Toledo Firefighter Health Plan and was an assistant football coach for St. Francis High School for 26 years.

Staff writer Ryan Dunn contributed to this report.

Contact Allison Dunn at adunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6506 or on Twitter @AllisonDBlade.

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