Laura Blaul, a beleaguered assistant fire chief at the Orange County Fire Authority who as county fire marshal oversaw a troubled safety inspection program currently being investigated by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, has been fired.
“Her contract has been terminated,” said OCFA spokesman Kelly Zimmerman.
Last week, Blaul bid a public farewell to the Fire Authority board of directors during the public comment period, telling them her last day would be Nov. 2.
“As you know, I will be leaving the OCFA as of November 2nd with the termination of my “at will” agreement. No cause was provided nor does my contract require one. I have chosen not to resign and will retire with nearly 27 years of service, all with the OCFA,” Blaul said.
“The last few years have been difficult,” Blaul said. “To move forward from here, it is my hope these changes will resolve the difficulties and allow the organization to regain the public trust.”
Zimmerman would not elaborate on the background behind Blaul’s termination, saying it was a personnel matter.
“The reason for her separation is known only to a few,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll never know any of that.”
Zimmerman did forward a prepared statement issued by OCFA Fire Chief Keith Richter.
“Laura Blaul served the OCFA and the public in Orange County for more than two decades and we are grateful for her service. We appreciate her kind words at the Executive Committee meeting and wish her all the best in return,” Riechter said.
As fire marshall, Blaul — whose brother-in-law, Ron Blaul was a Deputy Chief before retiring last year — oversaw OCFA’s fire prevention efforts along with inspections.
Her department has been rocked — and literally split in two — after an internal audit found that OCFA improperly charged local businesses more than $1.7 million in recent years for inspections that never occurred.
A district attorney investigation into the matter remains active.
While Blaul was initially placed on administrative leave when the revelations surfaced earlier this year, she was quickly brought back despite an ongoing DA probe. Earlier this month, Blaul was abruptly placed on administrative leave again.
Zimmerman said Blaul’s department had been split into two sections reporting to different assistant chiefs.
Blaul paid tribute to both in her letter to the OCFA board of directors.
“Chief Thomas, you show a genuine care for our people and are exactly what this team needs. Chief Stephens, you are always supportive and have the organizational history so necessary in making good decisions,” Blaul said.
Zimmerman said the agency is awaiting a reorganization of those functions.
“We don’t know what the future will look like until the fire chief makes a decision,” he said.
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