Princeton fire chief’s departure brings measure of relief, but concerns remain

Princeton City Council approves fire chief’s retirement

Princeton City Council approves fire chief's retirement

Emotions boiled over at Princeton’s City Council meeting as community members and firefighters demanded action from city leaders regarding concerns with the fire department.

One of their issues was addressed when the city approved the retirement of the chief of the Princeton Fire and Rescue Department, Ron Lawrence.

The fire chief announced his retirement following calls for a change in leadership from most of the department in a letter to city leaders expressing their intent to leave the department if a leadership change isn’t made.

In late December, the department sent a letter outlining a vote of no confidence in their chief. They wrote Lawrence’s decision-making has decreased safety, morale and trust.

Now, Assistant Fire Chief Josh Vaccari says he feels “cautiously optimistic” about the firefighters not leaving.

“We felt like it was the right thing for him to do,” Vaccari said about Lawrence’s retirement.

The city says Lawrence will hold the position until March 1.

Princeton Mayor Thom Walker said he has had confidence in the chief throughout this process.

“[It’s] pretty disappointing that it came to this,” Walker told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The mayor now hopes the department will follow through with a workplace assessment the city approved in late December that will be conducted by a St. Paul law firm. The city says it will address several things, including staffing and equipment issues.

While things are moving towards not losing most of the department, concerns from the fire department and community members remain surrounding Lawrence’s position with the city as emergency manager.

According to Mayor Walker, that position is mostly in place to make sure the city is prepared to assist in case of an emergency with the nuclear plant in Monticello, about 30 minutes south of the city.

Walker said that the position has no supervision over the department and that, given these developments, the city plans to look into how that position is handled.

As of Thursday night, attempts to reach Lawrence have been unsuccessful.