Fire chief Greg Knoll has stepped down in the midst of an investigation into whether he misused taxpayer-purchased gas.
The probe began two week ago when Knoll was placed on paid administrative leave.
City officials were reluctant to provide a reason. When pressed Monday, safety-service director John Jeffreys provided a brief statement.
“The fire chief put city-owned fuel into his own personal vehicle. This did depart from city policy, of course, and it sparked an internal investigation,” he said, “and the chief resigned before the investigation was concluded.”
Questions arose regarding Knoll’s use of gas tanks at Amherst’s street garage where fire, utility, and other city vehicles are fueled for on-the-job use. Police have a separate gas depot at their North Lake Street station.
Employees who use their personal vehicles for work aren’t allowed to fill up there. Instead, they are reimbursed for mileage.
There are records showing who uses the gas but not what vehicles it’s put into, officials confirmed.
There was plenty that Jeffreys, mayor Mark Costilow, and law director Tony Pecora would not divulge: how much gas they believe was used, how many times such fill-ups had occurred, how the investigation had started, and what evidence had been weighed.
“I’m worried about destroying a man’s livelihood when I don’t have all the facts,” Costilow said.
There was also some information they asked to keep off the record for security reasons.
The investigation ended Friday when Knoll decided to resign. It is incomplete and will never be concluded, the mayor said.
The purpose of the probe was to determine whether the fire chief broke city policy, and if so what disciplinary steps should be taken. With Knoll gone, those questions are null, he said.
Police chief Joe Kucirek was made aware of the investigation but was not asked to launch a theft-in-office investigation. Costilow said he does not believe the fire chief’s actions were criminal in nature.
In conversation with the News-Times, Pecora and Costilow characterized Knoll’s actions as a mistake.
No other firefighters are being investigated. Costilow said there is no evidence to suggest any other fire department personnel improperly used the city’s gas supply, or that there is a culture of rule-breaking at the Church Street station.
A licensed fire inspector and fire prevention expert, Knoll had served as assistant chief since 2011 and was well-liked by his crew.
He had been an Amherst firefighter since 1988 and was elevated to the full-time chief job in December 2015, filling the shoes of the retiring Wayne Northeim.
We were unable to reach Knoll, who according to officials, turned in his work cell phone upon resigning.
In the meantime, longtime assistant fire chief Jim Wilhelm is the acting chief.
Costilow said he is in the “infant stages” of replacing Knoll and does not know how long the process might take. Wilhelm was the only other firefighter to take the Civil Service test for the chief job when Knoll was promoted.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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