After 28 years in public service, New Braunfels Fire Department Chief Patrick O’Connell suddenly retired on Monday.
O’Connell submitted his resignation on Monday — two years and a week since he was announced to succeed Kenneth Jacks as permanent NBFD chief. No reason was given for the sudden departure and voice mails left Tuesday were not returned.
“We appreciate Chief O’Connell’s dedicated service to the department, the organization and the community,” City Manager Robert Camareno said in a statement. “Patrick has been a leader throughout the COVID pandemic, and we are all better for his efforts.
“We wish Chief O’Connell all the best in his retirement.”
Assistant Chief Mike Wehman was named interim chief while the city conducts a nationwide search for the next leader of the 138-member department.
“It was the proverbial bolt out of the blue,” said Wehman, who was informed by Camareno at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Both Wehman and O’Connell attended the first of four public input meetings to develop NBFD’s Strategic Plan. Thursday’s meeting at Westside Community Center solicited opinions from citizens on current fire department services and their expectations for future services.
“He and I were there with one of our crews to answer any questions,” Wehman said. “That process will continue. We’re not going to stop the forward progress the department already had in action.
“Fire stations are going up, the strategic planning process will continue. We’re going to keep trying to provide the best level of service that we can provide.”
O’Connell earned undergraduate degrees in fire service administration and emergency management administration from Weatherford College and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. He earned a master’s degree in public affairs from West Texas A&M University. He also was designated as a fire service chief executive officer from Texas A&M University’s Mays School of Business.
O’Connell began his career in 1993 in Marlin, Texas, and then in his hometown of Mexia, where he served as a paramedic and attended the police academy to learn how to conduct arson investigations. He joined the Corsicana Fire Department in 1997, and successfully tested and joined the NBFD in January 2005.
O’Connell worked his way up the ranks, as a firefighter and paramedic, then into interim and permanent roles as the city’s fire marshal and emergency management coordinator. He was an assistant fire chief under Jacks, then named interim chief when Jacks retired on May, 6, 2019.
He was among 60 applicants for the permanent job, and among six semifinalists. O’Connell, one of two finalists, was named to succeed Jacks on Sept. 14, 2019, and confirmed by city council nine days later.
The city has not yet announced details of its third NBFD chief search since 2014. It says the job responsibilities include overseeing administrative operations – such as formulating and managing annual budgets, policies, project management and strategic planning.
The chief also supervises the recruitment and hiring process, and ensure that all employees are evaluated, recognized, and developed under the guidelines of Texas Civil Service laws.
Wehman, 55, is married with four children and two grandchildren. He said got his start as a volunteer firefighter in Selma before moving into paid duty with the Universal City Fire Department. After six years there, he joined the NBFD in 1997.
Wehman said he’s not sure whether he’ll apply for the top job. He said it depends on the criteria on what the city wants in its next chief.
“We’re not going to seek another assistant chief because I’m basically going to continue those duties in that role along with being fire chief,” he said.