Deputy elevated to fire chief in Burlington

Deputy had been skipped over in last fire chief’s vacancy; he sued over discrimination and received a $90,000 settlement


            Burlington city manager Craig Honeycutt has named deputy fire chief Matt Lawrence as the city’s new fire chief, effective today.

Lawrence replaces Jay Mebane, who left last year to become the fire chief in Chapel Hill; a retired fire chief, Ken Briscoe, has headed the department as interim chief since Mebane’s departure.

Lawrence has been serving Burlington as deputy fire chief since 2018, after having served as assistant fire chief in Chapel Hill.

Lawrence sued the city in 2020, contending that Burlington had discriminated against him when then-city manager Hardin Watkins tapped Mebane to be chief in 2020. Mebane is black, Lawrence is white. Mebane, a former firefighter, was not with the fire department (but rather the inspections department) when Watkins named him fire chief.

Although his rank at the department put him second only to the city’s then-fire chief Jay Smith, who retired, Lawrence wasn’t elevated to the chief’s post upon Smith’s retirement.

A career firefighter who initially served 9½ years with Burlington’s fire department between 1997 and 2007, Lawrence eventually returned to the city’s employ in January of 2018 to take over as the fire department’s new deputy chief.

He received a $90,000 settlement from the city’s insurance company in 2021.

Part of the settlement provided that he would be “reviewed fairly and without retribution” as a candidate for the fire chief’s post – if the position became vacant again while Lawrence was still on the city’s payroll.

“We want to thank Chief Lawrence for his willingness to step up into this position.  His commitment to the City and to the Fire Department is unmatched. Chief Lawrence has been very instrumental in many of the successes of the Fire Department that we have had since I became City Manager.  We look forward to many years of positive leadership as we move the department forward.” stated City Manager Craig Honeycutt.

Lawrence holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership – Fire/Rescue Executive Leadership from Waldorf University; a B.S in Fire Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati; and a Fire Protection Technology degree from Alamance Community College.

He has completed multiple certification programs including the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program at the National Fire Academy and the Fire Service Executive Development Institute (FSEDI) through the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He is credentialed as a Chief Fire Officer (CFO) through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE).

Lawrence is involved in several local non-profits and currently serves as the President of the Board for Alamance County Meals on Wheels. Lawrence lives in Alamance County with his wife Connie, and has two sons, Macon and Nick.

“I am excited and grateful to be given the opportunity to serve as fire chief and help guide the future of this great department,” stated Lawrence. “The men and women of this department are the best that I have seen. I am honored to stand with them and support them as we continue to provide the absolute best fire protection and emergency response services possible to the citizens of Burlington.”

See earlier coverage:

Interim fire chief named:

Burlington fire chief Mebane to leave for top post in Chapel Hill:

Lawrence wins $90,000 settlement over discrimination claim against city: