If any Waukesha aldermen – past or present – ever wondered why Fire Chief Allen LaConte may have been late for a meeting or showed up covered in water, it’s only because he became the unsuspecting victim at the fire station.
The firefighters didn’t mean to prank the chief. It just happened. Rob Sprader, a Waukesha firefighter, said he sometimes fell victim to his own pranks, but he never forgets the times he accidentally targeted LaConte.
Sprader told the following story during LaConte’s retirement ceremony Friday morning.
"At the old station we used to have a certain style of sink that you could set up. We used to set up the sink so that when you went to get a glass of water or to clean out your dish, it would spray you. We had two different sinks set up on our shift. Every day after lunch the chief would come down and wash out his Tupperware dish because he was on the South Beach diet. We were out working on a couple of the chief's cars.
"We forgot that we had left the sink set up and the chief came down after lunch to clean out his dish. The next thing we know, he yells, my name, 'Sprader.' We looked at each other. Two of the guys locked themselves in the trunk of the car because they didn’t want to get caught. He looks at me and goes, 'You’ve got a mess in the kitchen.' I go in the kitchen. He left the sprayer on and the floor was flooding with water. … He was so mad. He wouldn’t talk to us.
"He thought it was all done. One night I figured, you know what, he is not here anymore. I am going to set it up one more time. I set it up in the bathroom. One of the battalion chiefs went to wash his hands in the bathroom, got nailed and moved it to the other sink. The chief always knew I set it up in the left sink, so he went to the right sink, not knowing the battalion chief (had changed it) five minutes before, turns it on and gets soaked five minutes before a Common Council meeting.
"I bet you our crew has got him wet at least half a dozen times on different occasions – obviously not intended for him but intended for our own co-workers."
LaConte retired Friday at the after working for 34 years for the city. He started his career as a volunteer firefighter in the 1970s in Menomonee Falls. It was emotional for the fire chief as he recounted his beginning.
“It has been a wonderful career. It has been wonderful working with all of you,” said LaConte, who shared about the importance of working with law enforcement, public works and other agencies in the city and the county. “It has been great. I didn’t know back in 1970 when I walked into the fire station in Menomonee Falls that all these years later that I would be the chief and that I’d be leaving on these terms. I really appreciate it.”
Assistant Fire Chief of Administration Steve Howard is taking over until a new fire chief is hired. Howard said LaConte’s accomplishments, leadership and compassion helped make him a great fire chief.
“The best advice that I was given when I started on the department was to make sure that you leave the job better than when you came,” Howard said. “Chief LaConte has definitely fulfilled that. … It has been an honor to work with him and a pleasure to have him as a boss and a colleague.”
Mayor Jeff Scrima gave LaConte a key to the city in December. He also spoke about what LaConte means to the city Friday at the fire station.
“Chief LaConte exemplified what it means to be an excellent public servant,” Scrima said. “… He has carried out his duties with decorum, competence and trust. We are very grateful for the positive difference he has made in our city. He is a leader who makes a difference for and with others.”