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St. Albert in search of new fire chief amid instability

Three fire chiefs are currently absent from the department.
0109 fire chief file CC
St. Albert's fire department is searching for a new fire chief after a period of several leadership changes. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert is looking to hire a new fire chief after a period of controversy. 

Former Chief Bernd Gretzinger was replaced in his acting chief role in February 2021, after the fire department union received complaints that at least two of the city’s fire chiefs allegedly got vaccinated for COVID-19 ahead of front-line staff amid a vaccine shortage. 

Deputy chief Scott Wilde, Gretzinger’s temporary replacement, also stepped down in June of this year after a non-confidence vote on his leadership.

Now, St. Albert is looking to hire a new fire chief to stay on permanently, as first reported by the Edmonton Journal. Deputy chief Vern Elliott — who took over when Scott Wilde stepped down — will continue to serve as fire chief while recruitment is underway. 

In an email to The Gazette, city spokesperson Amy Nastase confirmed the city is looking to hire for the position, and that the posting closed Wednesday, Aug. 25. 

“The fire chief is a vital position for the city, so we have decided to move forward with recruitment of a permanent position,” Nastase said. 

The city is also in search of a deputy chief, according to an online job posting. 

Leaders currently absent

Gretzinger, Wilde, and deputy chief Chris Varga, are currently absent from the fire department. The city would not answer The Gazette's questions asking for the reason for these absences.

There are currently four permanent leadership positions in the fire department, in addition to a temporary deputy chief working on “a temporary assignment for employees on leave,” Nastase said in an email. 

When asked whether Varga, Wilde, and Gretzinger would be staying on with the fire department, Nastase said the city would not comment further on personnel matters out of respect for privacy and confidentiality. 

Prior to the alleged vaccination queue jumping, Gretzinger was previously suspended for two weeks without pay after a photo of him in blackface at a 2016 Halloween party came to light. 

The fire chief who served before Gretzinger in 2018 — Kevin Lefebvre — left the city in Aug. of that year after six months on the job. 

Mayor Cathy Heron would not provide comment on the fire department.

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