(Crystal A. Proxmire, 4/21/2011)
Ferndale City Council had its fourth budget planning session on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. They heard presentations from the District Court, the Police Department and the Fire Department. Each department presented a slideshow describing what their legally-mandated responsibilities are and presenting budgets reflecting cuts of 15% and 20%. Council also approved strategies and principles that were talked about in Budget Meeting #1. Other Budget articles are listed at the end.
Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan talked about staffing issues in the Fire Department. In 2008 there were 32 full time and one part time employees. In 2010 that number fell to 29. And should the Department be forced to cut 15% it would bring staff levels down to 19.5 full time and one part time. At 20% it would be 17.5 regular employees plus their one part time administrative assistant. “That is daily staffing of two guys and closing Station 2,” he said.
Sullivan said that cuts in the past few years have already been a hard burden for the department to bear. “As we loose staff we’re pushing more and more administrative duties going down to the firefighters. We’re getting behind on paperwork because there is so much.”
“The City Charter has no requirement other than that we provide emergency fire services. I could drive around in a pick up truck with a fire extinguisher and that would meet the Charter requirements,” he said. “The State has a little more.” Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration has many requirements that affect the department, including the requirement that in order to enter a burning building there must be 2 firefighters in the building and 2 out.
Currently Ferndale is staffing at 6 firefighters per day. At 15% cuts it would reduce levels to 5 per day. At 20% it goes to 4 per day, and they would fundamentally not be able to operate. Sullivan says that even at 6 per day they are having trouble keeping both stations open.
Reductions in staff have also put Ferndale Fire in danger of being removed from OAKWAY, which is a mutual aid agreement with other Oakland County communities. “We are already understaffed to meet our requirement for Oakway, and we could be asked to leave at any time. How can we help anyone else when we don’t have enough to cover ourselves?” Sullivan said.
Should the 15 or 20% cuts go through, Sullivan said the “firefighting tactic would have to be defensive, meaning let stuff burn and focus only on lifesaving and keeping things from spreading.” He explained that 0-8 minutes is the cut off point for stopping a fire at the source, and that if response time takes longer than 8 minutes a home will generally be destroyed, and firefighters are advised to stay outside unless it is a rescue operation.
Councilmembers stressed that passing Proposal A (see article list below) on May 3 would give them the leeway in financing to prevent the 15-20% cuts that will happen if the proposal fails.
City leaders have looked at ways to trim the Fire Department budget. One frequently mentioned option is having a volunteer fire department. Sullivan gave several reasons why a volunteer department would not be realistic. “Volunteer departments have issues,” he said. “It takes a different kind of personality to run into a burning building when everyone else would be running out. Also, what if we spend all the money to train people and they decide not to stay?” He said that volunteers may not feel compelled to come to all calls, that calling people in from home greatly reduced response time, and it leaves residents open to the possibility of not having enough volunteers at any given time to handle an emergency.
Councilperson Kate Baker also brought up the idea of hiring another administrative staff person for the Fire Department, so that it could free up firefighters and allow them to focus more on billing, seeking grants and looking for other cost-cutting measures. “ You have the highest paid envelope lickers in any fire department when we’ve got the chief and the fire marshall doing the administrative work,” Baker said. “I’ve wondered how much revenue the department could collect if there was a full time staffer.”
Sullivan said that an additional staff person could also help with processing more citations and permits, which might bring the City up to $100,000 in additional revenue. This would be especially true if the City starts requiring operational permits for all businesses. The operational permit could bring in revenue, plus give the Fire Marshall an opportunity to know more about what is going on in each business. This information is very helpful to firefighters at a scene.
Another option being considered is a merger with the Hazel Park Fire Department, though this would not affect the 2012 budget process. The City recently approved a study to look at how the two cities might combine to strengthen services for both. Read more about the potential merger at https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/04/fire-dept-merger-study-in-progress-ray-riggs-explains/.
Other Budget articles in The Ferndale 115 News:
Budget Meetings Have Begun – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/24/the-budget-meetings-have-begun Budget Meeting #2 – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/31/budget-meeting-2-council-discusses-principles-internal-funds/ Budget Meeting #3 – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/09/budget-meeting-3-%E2%80%93-april-6-2011/ Budget Meeting #4, Part One – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/14/budget-meeting-4-part-one-court/
Time to Talk about the Headlee – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/06/time-to-talk-about-the-headlee/ Fire Department Merger Study in Progress – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/04/fire-dept-merger-study-in-progress-ray-riggs-explains/ SAFER Grant in Question – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/13/safer-grants-in-question/ Government News – https://oaklandcounty115.com/category/politics/.
Editor’s NOTE: Here are a couple of our favorite stories about the Ferndale Fire Department:
Tools of the Trade in the Ferndale Fire Department – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/01/12/tools-of-the-trade-in-the-ferndale-fire-department/.
New Fire Truck Arrives Safely – https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/13/new-fire-truck-arrives-safely/.