Keith Richter, OCFA Chief Under Fire, to Retire

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Keith Richter announced Tuesday he will retire effective Aug. 29.

That day cannot come soon enough for government watchdogs and members of the firefighter union.

An audit released last month found the OCFA plagued by bullying, professional favoritism and a lack of accountability. By then, Richter had already lost the support of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, which voted as much in February.

Irvine-based OCFA covers 23 Orange County cities with about 900 firefighters. Richter, who was hired in 2009, makes about $373,000 per year.

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He acknowledged in a departmental memo that the controversies swirling around him and the agency "placed me in a position of being a distraction." 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, at least, could not be verified.

A January report revealed 28 OCFA firefighters make more than $300,000 a year--including a deputy chief who brought home $392,599 in taxpayer funds--and 565 agency employees are compensated more than $200,000.

And the county Board of Supervisors was recently added to the growing list of OCFA critics. That's because the agency contacted bidders for a lucrative ambulance service contract before the bidding began. So miffed was the board at the mere appearance of cronyism it stripped the OCFA of oversight over ambulance services and the bidding process.

Despite all this, OCFA Board Chairman Steven Weinberg, who is also a Dana Point city councilman, had nothing but praise in a statement released Tuesday: "Chief Richter has spent his life in public service, keeping homes and families and responding in times of emergency. We thank him for his service and will begin a search to our next chief as soon as possible."

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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