Falcon Heights fires its fire chief

As exasperated firefighters sat in the audience, the Falcon Heights City Council voted during its Feb. 27 meeting to fire the city’s fire chief, Rich Hinrichs.

Per a city press release, the council had come to its decision to terminate Hinrichs’ employment with the city during a closed-door meeting ahead of the city council meeting. His termination was effective immediately.

“I find the performance of the chief has been unsatisfactory, to me,” said Mayor Peter Lindstrom. 

He said the council was acting because Hinrichs had allegedly violated city policies on having a respectful workplace, had angry outbursts and used disrespectful language with city employees, and shared information with other entities in violation of city policy.

Per the city’s release, it’s unable to give more specifics about Hinrichs’ alleged actions due to state data privacy laws. The release said the Falcon Heights Fire Department will continue to serve the city and Lauderdale, and that Falcon Heights also has mutual aid agreements with Roseville and St. Paul for fire protection.

Current and former Falcon Heights firefighters did not hide their displeasure with the chief’s firing.

“I think you people are wrong,” said former fire chief of 20 years Clem Kurhajetz, saying that Hinrichs’ biggest problem was letting city employees “swiggle over on their bellies” to bring complaints to City Administrator Sack Thongvanh about Hinrichs’ alleged behavior.

Asst. Fire Chief Anton Fehrenbach asked the council who would be in charge of the fire department following Hinrichs’ firing — he said he hadn’t been contacted — and said that the chief’s behavior was a part of the job.

“A couple angry outbursts that we all have, that looks negatively on the city council side, is how we sometimes deal with things on the fire side,” he said. “We deal with life and death all the time and we handle ourselves differently because this job’s tough on us ... we handle things differently.”

Fehrenbach said other area fire departments “are not very happy with this.” Other firefighters criticized the council for an apparent lack of a plan.

Following the firefighters’ comments, the council quickly and unanimously voted to fire Hinrichs. Thongvanh asked for the former chief’s city keys following the vote.

The council chambers emptied and the meeting continued for a bit longer, with council members commenting on their recent city business and other news.

Council member Randy Gustafson used his time to comment on the chief’s firing, after only Lindstrom had spoken on the matter while firefighters were still in the room.

“Our fire department is still in existence and we expect our firefighters to still be city employees and working for us,” Gustafson said, noting leadership will be carried out by the assistant chief and captains for the time being.

He said that data practice laws accounted for the reason there was little public notice about the impending firing.

“Our fire department is a good fire department,” Gustafson said. “Our leadership will continue ... unless they choose not to.”

Per the city release, “The City Council and City Staff will begin the process to hire a new Fire Chief in the immediate future.”

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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