The Falcon Heights City Council on Wednesday terminated Fire Chief Rich Hinrichs, citing his angry outbursts and disrespectful language.
Hinrichs’ firing was effective immediately, with City Administrator Sack Thongvanh asking him to turn over his keys to the firehouse.
The five-member council voted unanimously to terminate the chief, a St. Paul firefighter who worked for Falcon Heights on a paid, on-call basis.
Hinrichs “has consistently violated the policies of the city of Falcon Heights, specifically our policy related to having a respectful workplace,” Mayor Peter Lindstrom said. “There have been interactions with employees from various departments where disrespectful language has been used and angry outbursts have been demonstrated.”
Hinrichs also “conveyed information” to state agencies and other local governments that violated city policy, the mayor said without further elaboration.
But Hinrichs, who had served as fire chief since 2015, said Friday that his firing felt like a “witch hunt” based on personality conflicts.
“I’ve never had any performance review while employed by the city of Falcon Heights,” he said. “I had not received any information about any current situation. I was basically blindsided.”
Several members of the Fire Department spoke at Wednesday’s meeting in his defense, praising his leadership, dedication to the job and technical skills.
Falcon Heights Assistant Fire Chief Anton Fehrenbach said he was saddened to see Hinrichs go. “This is not good for the city of Falcon Heights,” he said.
Fehrenbach also challenged the City Council’s assessment of Hinrichs’ temperament.
“We deal with emergencies. We deal with life and death all the time,” he said. “We handle ourselves a little bit differently. This job is tough on us.”
“I don’t think this was an open process,” said Falcon Heights Fire Capt. Michael Kruse. “No one in the city knows this is happening except people in this room. This move seriously jeopardizes the safety of this community.”
Hinrichs received a $1,000 monthly stipend for serving as chief. He had served with the Falcon Heights Fire Department on and off since 2000, according to city records.
The department, with one firehouse and a $185,000 annual operating budget, has no full-time staff.
According to the department’s 2017 annual report, Falcon Heights firefighters responded to 119 calls including 20 fires, 23 hazardous conditions and 11 rescue or emergency medical situations.
Falcon Heights, population 5,600, is just 2.3 square miles on St. Paul’s north border.
Thongvanh said the assistant fire chief and fire captains will take over the chief’s duties.