Princeton fire chief to retire after firefighters threaten walkoff

A central Minnesota fire chief has submitted his retirement letter, after nearly his entire fire department threatened to walk off the job if he wasn’t replaced.

The Princeton City Council approved Fire Chief Ron Lawrence’s retirement Thursday, which will take effect March 1.

Lawrence is accused of ignoring safety concerns and mismanaging the department’s budget. Thirty-three of 36 firefighters took a vote of no confidence in him last month.

"There is no trust anymore," said assistant chief Josh Vaccari.

Vaccari said while Lawrence’s retirement from his fire chief role was a "step in the right direction" he is concerned that Lawrence remains the head of Emergency Management. He said all firefighters will walk off the job on Feb. 8 if he continues to oversee the department. 

"He will have no oversight of the fire department," said Mayor Thom Walker. "If they think we’re just changing a title and he’s going to remain on the same duties - that’s not accurate."

Faced with criticism for not terminating him, the mayor said they determined the offenses did not warrant such action, saying he was pleased with Lawrence’s decision to retire.

The city has hired an outside law firm to conduct a workplace assessment, saying they will not fill the chief’s position until that’s complete.

OSHA is also now involved, with the city directed to fix the hazards following an anonymous complaint.