Former Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards will appear in court for an omnibus hearing Monday morning on charges of third-degree driving while impaired, and what happens to his driving privileges could have a direct impact on his employment with the fire department.
In the wake of his arrest, Edwards resigned his post as chief and accepted a demotion to assistant chief. But his ability to serve in that role depends on his ability to drive. Assistant fire chiefs are required to have a valid Minnesota Class D driver's license.
If he is able to retain his license, Edwards should be able to step directly into the new position, and his compensation, including longevity pay, will drop from $138,538 to $102,528.
Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said the voluntary demotion complies with the terms of the city's collective bargaining agreement with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 101.
In the event that Edwards' license is temporarily suspended, however, he could face one of three different outcomes under the city's motor vehicle operation policy:
• A temporary "demotion to a lower non-driving position if a vacancy exists until his driving privileges are restored," or
• An "unpaid leave of absence for up to one year" until his license is again valid, or
• Termination if the other two options don't pan out.
Two of the three assistant fire chief positions with the Duluth Fire Department are currently vacant, so Edwards should be able to slide directly into that role without bumping anyone out of a job, so long as he is able to retain his driver's license.
If Edwards temporarily loses his license, he could be demoted to a rank-and-file firefighter until his driving privileges are restored. The city considers a Class D license a preferred qualification for that job, but it's not necessarily required.
Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj has served as acting chief since Edwards' arrest.
When asked whether Krizaj will be named fire chief on a permanent basis, Schuchman responded: "In the coming weeks, Mayor (Emily) Larson and I will discuss the next steps for filling the fire chief position on a permanent basis."
"The city's primary focus is moving the fire department forward during this leadership change and maintaining their excellent work. I thank the department for their commitment to stability and service during this time," Schuchman added.
Edwards was arrested March 30 by a St. Louis County Sheriff's deputy on Rice Lake Road after he was seen passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone. A breath test indicated his blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent - more than 2½ times Minnesota's legal limit of 0.08 percent. This is his first drunken driving charge.
Following his arrest, Edwards was placed on paid administrative leave. That administrative leave has since ended, but Edwards has not yet returned to work, using some of his own personal paid leave time in the interim.
Edwards, 48, was promoted to fire chief in 2016, after 20 years of service as a Duluth firefighter.