After months of speculation over who will be Minneapolis' next fire chief, Mayor Jacob Frey has decided to back current Chief John Fruetel for another term.
Frey said in an interview Monday that his staff talked with other candidates, but said that was only because he'd received misinformation that Fruetel, who's 65, had reached mandatory retirement age. Frey said he changed course back to Fruetel after learning that wasn't the case.
"Just listen to Chief Fruetel talk about the city for 30 seconds," Frey said. "It's clear that he loves the city of Minneapolis, and the city loves him back."
Fruetel, a career firefighter, has been on the ground for some of Minneapolis' worst emergencies in recent memory: the 35W bridge collapse, the 2011 North Side tornado and the Minnehaha Academy explosion that killed two people last year. He joined the department in 1979, and rose to a captain and battalion chief.
He transferred to the city's Emergency Management Division in 2010 but returned as the department's chief in 2012 after his predecessor, Alex Jackson, retired amid criticisms over the department's massive overtime costs. At the time, some firefighters, including the department's unions, had vocally criticized the city for budget cuts they said translated to slower response times and more firefighter injuries.
Since Fruetel took over, staffing in the department has grown from 385 to 423. The department has cut overtime costs substantially and made "major strides" in improving health conditions for firefighters, Fruetel said.
"Fruetel's been good to us," said Mark Lakosky, firefighters union president. "I can't tell you any different."
Lakosky commended the mayor for continuing to push an internal candidate, rather than an outside hire, as previous mayors have done. He also credited Fruetel for helping reopen a fire station in northeast Minneapolis and getting more rigs on the roads.
"John's done a good job with what he's got," said Lakosky.
Fruetel has also worked to increase diversity in the department. In the most recent firefighter cadet class, 48 percent were people of color, according to statistics provided by the city. The most recent class of emergency medical services workers were 89 percent minorities.
Fruetel said he will continue working to improve the safety of citizens and firefighters. He said he's "nearing the sunset for his career," and plans to focus his next term on setting the department up for the future.
"I think the future leader of this department does lie within the department," he said. "I think it's important for me to work on developing those opportunities for those folks."
The mayor will officially nominate Fruetel at the city's executive committee meeting scheduled for April 10. If approved, the nomination will go to the full City Council, which will likely assign it to a committee for public hearing.