Ypsilantians weigh in on potential merger of police and fire departments

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.

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23 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your contribution to this conversation, Elvis. It’s invaluable to have the input of someone who actually knows the job.

    I also agree with Murph that, just because we’ve done things a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean that we have to keep doing it that way in the future.

    Does anyone in the insurance industry know how our rates would likely go up if Ypsi transitioned to a “pay for call” system, like the one being discussed?

  2. John Galt
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    We need to get the government out of the way and transition to a for-profit private fire department system. I see absolutely nothing wrong with giving people the choice of not opting into a fire protection agreement. It’s all about freedom. If you want to not have health insurance, you should have the freedom to do so. And the same goes for fire protection. If you don’t want to pay a private force to protect your property, you should be able to stand by happily and watch your house and children go up in flames, like this gentleman in Tennessee.

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2010/10/firebugs_rightb.php

  3. Brainless
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    (John Galt, give it a rest. All you do is jump in and state the same tired sarcastic shit over and over again. We get it: You say the opposite of what you mean and call it “political humor”. You’re some kinda fuggin’ genius. Please save it for your friends at the improv troupe. Your schtick is tired, dude.)

    Much like Edward, I’d like to know also how insurance will go up. I bet it will be less than the $1,000 the income tax folks wanted from my hide.

  4. Stupid Hick
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I may be a stupid hick, but John Galt makes perfect sense to me

  5. Knox
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Brian Robb says that, when it comes to fighting fires, nothing with change under this new scheme, which is being discussed. A former firefighter says that’s absolutely not the case. Who am I to believe?

  6. Elvis Costello
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Knox, it’s simple. Now, you get a fire truck with Firefighters on it, ready to work. If it changes, you get a firetruck with ONE firefighter, and we wait for PSO’s to arrive. I think that’s called a “change”.

  7. BrianR
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Knox,

    I won’t tell you who to believe, but I will say that Scott hasn’t seen a plan or even a generic framework for what is being explored. He’s basing his opinion on a newspaper article planted by an organization that isn’t interested in exploring public safety. The article had mistakes, and Scott even misread it. He can post in CAPS as much as he likes, but it doesn’t make what he’s saying any closer to being correct.

    I’ll be honest, Scott knows more about firefighting than I’ll ever know. But this is a policy discussion — a policy discussion that Scott hasn’t been a part of.

    Our community is in for some radical changes on many fronts. Not everyone embraces change as witnessed by how hard some people are working behind the scenes to kill this before it ever gets out of the investigation stage. Good luck to us.

  8. Elvis costello
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Brian, thanks for the compliment. You are right, I know nothing about your policy discussions. I was raising issues from my years of experience that I thought Marks readers should consider. I’ll be watching to see how you and the Council address those issues and expect that you’ll have answers down the road. Before you get pissy, you might want to refer to the last sentance of my first post, where I acknowledged that you have some difficult decisions. By the way, since you decided to out me by using my name, I’ll finish. my Name is Scott Brodie. I retired from YTFD in 2010. I was a Beyer baby, attended Ypsi Schools, played baseball at Gilbert Park behind Arlans, worked For Green Jewelers, Bailes Pharmacy, and was a DeMolay through the 1970s at the Masonic Temple, and spent many great hours downtown. I have volunteered for the Heritage Fest, and the Jamboree in the last few years, despite not living in Ypsi. I currently work at a local Ypsi business. Ypsi will always be a part of me, and in the words of Bruce Springsteen, will always be “my hometown”. I have friends and family who still live here, and I still care.

  9. josh
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Great. Our leaders think it’s wise to have policy discussions devoid of the practical effects of said policies. Fucking brilliant.

  10. Elviscostello
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    and Brian…my son lives in Ypsilanti, and you can bet I care about public safety…

  11. Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    As Brian’s followup here notes, “Our community is in for some radical changes on many fronts.”

    Yes, a lot of this change is being driven by external forces that we have virtually no control over — banker-driven foreclosure crisis, Michigan’s intentionally destructive approach to local government financing, etc. — and that sucks. But going head in the sand and refusing to put options on the table for consideration is not a terribly strategic reaction to external change.

    This was my point in my comment, and I think Brian’s too: we either insist that the way we’re doing it now is exactly the right way to do it, and it’s somebody else’s job to figure out a solution, or we take a good look at what exactly it is that we’re trying to achieve, and figure out a way to get it done.

    “We need to have 5 full time firefighters on duty at the firehouse at all times,” is not a goal: the goal is keeping our residents safe, and our current model of fire staffing is probably only one means to that end.

  12. Margaret
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Murph, Robb, and other bureaucrats have a vested interest in preserving the status quo (it employs them). If that means accepting austerity and resource-extraction, which it seems to, our community suffers in the longterm.

  13. Elvis costello
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Murph, my intent was/is to raise questions that need to be answered before those decisions are made, not after.

  14. kjc
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    stupid democracy.

    (BrianR needs a publicist)

    personally i was REALLY glad to hear you, Elvis Costello, even though you’re not in on the big discussions.

  15. 734
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Brian,

    Maybe, since this is a matter that will have real life and death consequences, you could involve someone like Scott (aka Elvis) in this “policy discussion” instead of suggesting that he doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation. As you yourself concede, he knows more about firefighting that you’ll ever know. He should be seen as a resource.

  16. Mr. Washington
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I mean this in all seriousness. Please hear me out. I am not merely a troll. I have a question.

    If we go to a scheme where there are fewer than three firefighters responding to a home fire and, as a result, someone inside dies, will surviving family members be able to file suit against those individuals who knowingly lied during the income tax debate, saying that staffing levels would not drop as a result of a no vote?

    Is there a lawyer in the audience who could answer this?

  17. dragon
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Fuck you Robb.
    I don’t know Elvis, but I do know an asshole when I see one.
    Counter-top inspections can get personal.

  18. Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Generally speaking, I appreciate your comments, Dragon, but I think the “fuck you” is uncalled for here. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that it’s not nice, I don’t think it serves our purposes. We need to get Brian, and other members of City Council, leaving comments here more often, not less. And, in order to see that accomplished, we need to be civil. So, I’d appreciate it if you’d tone it down a bit, and focus on the facts, OK?

  19. Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Margaret — an interesting theory. A little bit weakened by the fact that neither of us are employed by the city, or by any government. Brian’s in a completely unrelated field, and I’m in urban planning/community development, which is usually the first set of jobs on the chopping block — so if I supported municipal austerity in the name of my employment, I’d be making an exceptionally stupid gamble.

    I’m also not sure where you get the idea that I’m any supporter of public sector austerity (I’m not), but you’ve done a great job of resorting to ad hominems in lieu of actually engaging in the discussion, which is exactly the behavior I was kvetching about.

    By contrast, I really appreciate elvis c’s discussion of the challenges involved in either hybrid public safety or largely on-call departments.

  20. Elvis costello
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph. That’s what I was hoping for.

  21. Elvis costello
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Just reading about the dismissing of a joint fire department or merger between the city and township by the new city manager, and instead, choosing the PSO model. Has anyone gone on record as to why he and/or the council have decided to go the PSO model?

  22. josh
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I was disappointed to see that article too. Merger with the township fire department just makes sense. It’s ridiculous that township fire engines have to go through the city to respond to a fire in the township and that a fire in the city a couple blocks from a township station has to wait for the response from the downtown station. We would get better service for cheaper with a merger. With a hybrid PSO model we get worse coverage and stressed out officers for maybe cheaper.

    The impression I got was that Lange didn’t even bring the option to council. I would like council to be a bit more proactive in managing the manager. I understand letting employees do the job they are hired to do, but they let Koryzno drive the city into the ditch. Until Lange proves himself a bit, I wouldn’t be so trusting that he is making the best decisions for the city.

  23. josh
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    An added benefit to a merger is that it might lay some of the township/city animosity to rest. Working more closely with the community that surrounds us is how we are going to get out of this mess.

3 Trackbacks

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    […] to be more cost effective than the current system or consolidating with other municipalities. (Our discussion on the the merging of Ypsilanti’s Police and Fire departments.)Since street lighting costs the city about $500,000 per year, Ypsilanti City Council is […]

  2. […] assets, dissolve our democratically elected local government, etc. This, of course, is an eventuality that we’ve discussed at length before. Here was my contribution to the conversation at the time. Does anyone remember, back when we were […]

  3. […] There was talk a while back, at a point when finances looked particularly bad, of combining our police and fire departments here in Ypsi. Thankfully, I haven’t heard much mention of that lately. Is that conversation pretty much […]

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