Crestwood fire chief retires after serving city nearly 40 years

Kestler originally planned to retire in May, but agreed to serve as acting administrator

Karl Kestler

Karl Kestler

By Kari Williams

In his nearly 40 years with the Crestwood Fire Department, Chief Karl Kestler saw the city hire its first female firefighter; watched the fire service transition to incorporate emergency medical services; and established a smoke-detector program for older residents.

Kestler retired Jan. 1 from the city he served for 37 years — and a career that began at the suggestion of a friend who was a firefighter.

“I had gotten laid off, and he said (I) might want to try the fire department,” Kestler told the Call. “I always had an interest in it, so I applied out here and Affton at the same time. Crestwood called me first.”

The fire chief said he has remained in the city just shy of four decades because of the people, and after being promoted to assistant fire chief in the early ’90s Kestler moved into the city he had served for more than a decade.

“You meet a lot of people, become friends with a lot of people … You always want the best for them,” he said. “That’s why when I was the assistant chief we started a smoke detector program for our older citizens. During the change your clock, change your battery (time of year), we would go out and install batteries for them and that way we know that they at least have a (working) smoke detector in their home, especially older residents …”

Mayor Jeff Schlink told the Call though there is nothing wrong with city employees living outside of Crestwood, being a resident “gave Karl an extra appreciation for what he was doing.”

“He would see the people being impacted daily .. and I think that that just gives you a little bit different perspective on how you’re doing your job …,” Schlink said of Kestler, who was promoted to fire chief in 1997.

Assistant Fire Chief Mark Menning, who succeeds Kestler, told the Call Kestler has provided the department with “strong leadership, strong direction and a stable, consistent way of managing.”

Menning said Kestler has taught him a “tremendous amount,” such as how to take care of the firefighters, knowing what is important and having “very strong ethics and moral leadership.”

“Not in so much as he even knew,” Menning said. “It (was) just watching him and being around him.”

Kestler originally planned to retire in May, but the city needed an acting city administrator after former City Administrator Petree Eastman’s separation from the city, so he stepped up — something he has done on more than one occasion.

“They needed someone to do it, and the nature of the people that work in this business is to step up when things are needed,” Kestler said.

Schlink said Kestler’s “working knowledge” of the Fire Department and the city itself has been “extremely helpful” as Kestler has taken on the acting city administrator role.

“… He’s just a joy to work with,” Schlink said, “and he’ll certainly be missed, but having said that Mark (Menning) has some large shoes to fill, but I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Mark as well.”

Though Menning said he was “pretty excited” to be selected as fire chief, he is not taking over a department “that’s in need of a lot of updating.”

“(Karl) left a very strong foundation and base, and we have the opportunity to build on that for the future,” Menning said.

Menning said the Fire Department will miss the stability Kestler brought to the organization.

“He was always there, always in front,” Menning said. “He made sure everybody had what they needed first. Took whatever there was last … (and we’ll miss) just that high moral, ethical compass that we knew he was leading the department by.”

Kestler is not only a “trusted employee,” but “extremely loyal,” according to Schlink.

“I think the example he has set for not only people in the Fire Department, but in other departments within the city, I think has been a huge contribution to the city of Crestwood,” Schlink said.