Yesterday, I put up an admittedly not so insightful post about the possibility that Ypsilanti’s police and fire departments could be merged in hopes of further containing costs. While the post didn’t shed any new light on the situation, which would likely call for a greater reliance on part-time fire fighters, and a staff of public service officers dcross-trianed to perform both police and fire duties, it got a conversation going, and thereby served its purpose. I’d encourage you to follow the link above, and read all of the comments, but, as I know that many of you won’t do that, here are a few of my favorites.
FORMER YPSILANTI CITY PLANNER RICHARD MURPHY:
Why is the way we have it now the only way it can possibly be? I understand perfectly well the artificial pressures of the anti-tax movement on municipal finance, and I’m definitely against the nihilism of ypsi’s local knee-jerk tax opponents, but that doesn’t mean the way we do it now is the perfect, or best, or right way to do it.
Troy has a hybrid department: 10 full time firefighters to cover a city of 80,000 people spread across 33.6 square miles. (They also have 180 trained on-call firefighters, also known as “volunteer”, even though they’re paid for their training and the calls they go on.) Their website claims they’re in the top 4% of ISO ratings nationwide.
Farmington Hills, 79,000 people 33.3 square miles, 40 full-time and 91 paid-on-call (“volunteer”) firefighters. They only have one fire station staffed full-time for the entire city; the other substations are on-call.
I was recently talking to a community leader in Southfield who said they too are looking at changing to a hybrid (career + paid-on-call) system, since they see it working so well and saving money in those other two cities.
I offer up these communities as examples of cities (with lots of people, manufacturing plants and all of the chemical concerns that come with them, and high-rise office and apartment towers) to show that other models can and do work in cities nearby.
What’s so special about Ypsilanti that we are uniquely unable to cope without an all-full-time fire department? I’m not going to say that we could just turn the key and change over to a hybrid system and magically save money tomorrow, but we should at least make sure we’re giving reasonable consideration to our options.
YPSILANTI CITY COUNCIL MEMBER BRIAN ROBB:
The problem about stuff you read on the internet or in local newspapers is that it’s often wrong.
City Council is not weighing a plan to combine police and fire.
At this time, there is no plan.
When we hired Ralph Lange to be the City Manager, one of the things he wanted to do was explore Public Safety since it was something he implemented in Albion when he was City Manager there.
Council is allowing him to explore that. If and when he comes up with a plan, we’ll evaluate it.
The reason Council hasn’t talked much about this (other than there is no plan) is because negotiating in the newspapers is a disaster.
It seems like everyone is speculating about what will or could happen even though they don’t know what they are talking about. That leads to chaos and misinformation.
Communities with public safety all operate in a very similar manner. There are dedicated police officers because you need detectives, property officers, and the like. If Ypsilanti went to public safety, we would also have dedicated police officers.
There are dedicated fire fighters in public safety departments because you need people who can get the trucks to the emergency. And those people can’t be on road patrol somewhere two miles away from the station. If Ypsilanti went to public safety, we would also have dedicated fire fighters. The article said there would be seven.
There are also public safety officers who are cross-trained. If Ypsilanti went to public safety, we’d have a group of dedicated public safety officers.
Ypsilanti would still fight fires there same way we do today. Ypsilanti would also patrol the streets the same way.
And like I said earlier, when we get a plan, we’ll take a look at it and evaluate it and certainly share it with the public.
Finally, no one has lost their jobs or would lose their jobs if Ypsilanti went to public safety.
YPSILANTI CITY COUNCIL MEMBER MIKE BODARY:
Brian (Robb) is correct and explains it well. Anythting at this point is just the beginnings of weighing options, not even close to a plan yet. Ralph Lange had a fresh idea that council thinks at least deserves a look into. The money WILL run out, probably in less than 2 years. With the voters turning down revenues, loss of the SAFER grant and no help from Lansing, we got the message that every idea deserves a look. I’ll be off council soon and the new council will face tough decisions.
KKT – the answer is that there would be more and less. Expected attrition by fire and police and cross training of both makes for dual roles in almost all personnel. A fire alarm causes the command officer to send PSOs from various duties to meet the truck(s) at the scene. When other departments respond for back-up some patrols can return to normal. More than likely HVA would be called on for emergency medical calls without YFD first response.
FORMER YPSILANTI FIRE FIGHTER ELVIS COSTELLO:
As a retired firefighter, ler me weigh in.
First, if there is a three person department, there would be one on each shift. That firefighter would maintain the trucks, do the state reports, all the other stuff, and when a fire call comes in, would drive the fire apparatus to the scene and set up. He/She would wait for arriving personnel (whoever they are), and set up for a fire attack. The fire station in Superior Township at MacArthur Blvd was a one man station, I don’t know if that’s the case today. It would be instructive to talk to some of the guys who worked that station about the ramifications of a one man station (I use “man” as the generic firefighter, I know there are women) understanding that there were other Superior Firefighters in route.
Second, Troy has relatively new buildings, and a higher economic level than Ypsilanti and Ypsi Township. They have STRINGENT building codes and STRICT enforcement of the codes and buildings that were NOT built at the turn of the century. They have the luxury of a paid on call department that I don’t believe our area has.
Third, My thought would be that YFD would not run EMS. I would think that HVA would now run all EMS calls, as cross training Police to do firefighting is one thing (and as a personal opinion, I disagree with this idea), but to do EMT certification is something much different with very demanding and regular Continuing Ed.
Fourth, Mutual aid agreements…How will YFD be able to respond to it’s mutual aid partners with sufficient personnel and resources? Mutual aid is meant to be a quid pro quo, not a supplement of “weaker” departments by “stronger” departments (I only speak in terms of numbers, not in quality or competence). If Ypsilanti becomes a “one man shift”, how does the quid pro quo get met? It can’t.
Fifth, Brian is incorrect when he writes, “Ypsilanti would still fight fires there same way we do today. Ypsilanti would also patrol the streets the same way.” I would ask how Brian figures that is true…You, by the nature of the changes made, would NOT fight fires or patrol the streets the same”. Those PSO officers would have competing demands on their time, training, and priorities. Guess what, Police work will always win over.
Sixth, A Fire Chief once told me, we did our jobs too well. We pushed fire education in schools, gave away free detectors, wrote fire codes. All these things reduced the number and severity of fires. Fewer people died and more property was saved. Now, in times of budget stress, the Fire Department is an easy target. What folks have to remember is that we are the best insurance you have. When the phone rings, 24/365, you will have a staffed big red/yellow truck show up to mitigate your disaster, big or small. There’s no delay, there’s no “get in line”, there’s just a response. If this amorphous proposal comes forth, that contract changes.
Seventh, how much will your insurance rates increase when your fire department is reduced to a paid on call? Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but I’ll bet there will be corresponding rate increases. They MAY be less than any tax increase to keep a full-time, staffed department, but I’d bet you will see increases, and those increases will hit your commercial buildings at a higher rate than your homes. How will your businesses respond to this “hidden” increase?
I hope I have added to the conversation. I realize that Ypsilanti faces really bad choices, but cutting Fire services to the extent described, I believe, would be a mistake.