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Duluth fire chief submits resignation, arraigned on DWI charges

Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards Jr. (File / News Tribune)1 / 2
Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards Jr.2 / 2

Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards has submitted a letter of resignation following his arrest on charges of drunken driving.

Edwards agreed to step down Friday from the fire department’s top job and accept a demotion to his previous post as assistant fire chief.

Edwards appeared in court this morning to be formally charged on two counts of third-degree driving while impaired. The two counts are related to a single incident.

Before that court appearance, the Duluth News Tribune today learned of the fire chief’s resignation via a records request submitted to the city of Duluth the previous morning.

Duluth’s chief administrative officer Noah Schuchman acknowledged and accepted Edwards’ resignation. Schuchman issued a statement saying: ”Effective immediately, Deputy Chief Shawn Krizaj is serving as Interim Fire Chief. In accordance with the union contract, Dennis Edwards will revert back to the position he held prior to being appointed Fire Chief.”

He went on to say: “The city of Duluth thanks Dennis Edwards for his service as fire chief for the city of Duluth.”

The demotion will reduce Edwards’ salary, with longevity pay, from $138,538 to $102,528.

Edwards was placed on paid administrative leave after a St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled him over at about 11:40 p.m March 30. The deputy reported observing Edwards pass a vehicle on a hill in a no-passing zone on Rice Lake Road and then his SUV “failed to maintain the driving lane.”

Subsequent testing revealed Edwards to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.22 percent — more than 2½ times Minnesota’s legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Firefighters generally are required to hold a commercial driver’s license and are held to an even higher standard in terms of driving while impaired. They can lose a license for having a blood-alcohol content of 0.04 percent or more.

Edwards was arraigned Thursday morning before 6th Judicial District Judge Theresa Neo. He stated his name and birth date, but did not otherwise address the court.

Defense attorney Shawn Reed said Edwards would waive a formal reading of the criminal complaint and requested an omnibus hearing. That was scheduled for April 29.

Edwards and his wife quickly left the courtroom at the conclusion of the brief hearing. He and Reed declined comment.

Edwards, 48, was promoted to fire chief in 2016, after 20 years of service as a Duluth firefighter.

The recent drunk driving charges are not the first blemishes on Edwards’ employment record. In 2001 and early in his career, Edwards was suspended without pay for 48 hours after a firehall incident following a night with fellow off-duty firefighters celebrating his then-recent marriage. A woman who joined the gathering broke her ankle after sliding down a fire pole. Edwards was subsequently reprimanded for possessing alcohol on city property, allowing the woman to participate in unsafe activities at the fire hall and failing to report the incident.