By Maya Rao
Saying goodbye to the fire chief and welcoming a new one has become a familiar ritual in Minneapolis – one that unfolded again on Friday as City Council approved John Fruetel for the post hours before attending a retirement party for Chief Alex Jackson.
Fruetel will be the city’s fifth fire chief since 2004, taking over a department struggling with low morale, budget cuts, and criticism over its use of overtime and sick leave.
“We’ve been living through an economic downturn in this country and it has really impacted local government,” said Fruetel during an interview at the Bill and Bonnie Daniels Firefighters Hall and Museum, as Jackson’s goodbye bash wound down.
“With that downward pressure, it’s going to be very important to try to minimize the impact…on the service we provide,” he said.
Fruetel acknowledged limits on his ability to control budget cuts, which have led to layoffs and a 400-member workforce that is down 17 percent from a decade ago.
“It’s hard to maintain our level [of service] … with the budget we have, and I’m hoping to look at opportunities to grow the department back,” he said.
Fruetel retired in 2010 as assistant fire chief to Jackson and went to work for the city as an emergency coordinator. He’ll start his new job March 1.