The St. Clair Fire Protection District again is looking for a chief.
Les Crews, who had been on the job only since January 2014, resigned effective Friday. He is returning to one of his old stomping grounds at the Monarch Fire Department in Chesterfield.
“The offer was the right thing for me to do at this point,” Crews told The Missourian. “It also was the right thing for my family.”
At Monarch, Crews will be the deputy chief of operations. He previously worked there from 1979-2011. He began his duties here on Jan. 6, 2014.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience here,” the 57-year-old Crews said. “I’ve gotten to work with a lot of great people in St. Clair. It’s tough to walk away.”
Until a new chief is hired, Assistant Chief Mike Kelley will be in charge of the department. Kelley also was the interim boss before Crews was hired following the Eric Hinson financial scandal.
“We hate to lose him,” SCFPD board of directors President Robin Jobe said of Crews. “The department has made great strides under his leadership. He’s a good man, a good administrator and a good coordinator.”
Jobe read Crews’ letter of resignation during Tuesday’s board of directors meeting.
“I am writing to announce my resignation from my position as fire chief for the St. Clair Fire Protection District,” the letter reads. “This was not an easy decision to make, I am very proud to have been a part of this organization, and I enjoyed working alongside the hardworking and honorable men and women of the St. Clair Fire Protection District.”
Jobe said the fire district already has started the process to find a new chief.
“The board has started taking the steps to fill the position,” he said. “We have several avenues to explore on how best to do that.”
Those options include going back to the list of qualified individuals who applied at the time when Crews was hired to see if any still may be interested and go through the entire application process again.
“But we are going to hire a full-time chief,” Jobe said. “We feel it’s what is best for the department. We will hire a person who is fully credited and qualified.
“But until then, it will be business as usual.”
Jobe said he is hoping to have a new chief in place by July 1.
Crews said his leaving has nothing to do with the failed bond issues the fire department tried to get district voters to support in April. Both referendums failed by a wide margin.
Through property tax hikes, one initiative would have provided funds to add manpower to the district while the other would have allowed equipment to be replaced or repaired.
“This district has some challenges ahead, but this organization always will excel and make it through any situation in front of it,” Crews said. “I told every staff member that they need to understand that this (leaving) is nothing personal at all. An opportunity came up, and I had to make what I thought was the best decision.
“It has nothing to do with the election or any individual.”
Even though his last day was Friday, Crews said he will remain connected to the local department.
“I may walk out the door on Friday, but I’m not leaving the organization,” he said. “I will still help St. Clair in any way I can. This organization has highly trained and skilled people, and the work ethic is top-notch. I would trust each and every one of them with my life.”
Crews lives in Washington, but at one time was a St. Clair resident.
He served as a St. Clair alderman for 16 years and worked in the St. Clair Fire Protection District from 1971 to 1996. After his first stint with Monarch, he was with the Glendale Fire Department for one year.
Crews came to St. Clair from Central County Dispatch out of St. Louis County.
During his fire fighting career, Crews responded to and assisted with the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in 2001; to several hurricanes; to tornado relief, including in Joplin; and to flooding situations.
“As much as I’d like to tell you that you have a good fire department here, I can’t,” he said. “You have a great fire department here.”