Fire chief expresses safety concerns
A shocking story of a fire chief, held back and coerced to perpetuate a huge cover-up regarding the safety of the township’s fire department, who finally decided it was time to blow-the-whistle before there were “dire consequences.” (Editor note)
Sep. 20, 2013 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
“On multiple occasions, the department has operated with only three full-time firefighters on duty…”
Plymouth Township Fire Chief Mark Wendel has expressed grave concerns about the general safety of both firefighters, “and the public we serve,” despite warnings from Township Supervisor Richard Reaume not to create any public record of his fears.
In a July 19 letter to Reaume, Wendel stated his for Plymouth Township residents. In the letter, Wendel states that Reaume instructed him not to create any written record of his concerns and “directed me not to contact any board members with department issues.”
The concerns Wendel addressed include the lack of manpower, the lowest since 1979, EMS response to medical emergencies, equipment replacement, which has not happened in four years, budget concerns, “and the general lack of support from those making critical decisions as it pertains to the general safety of the firefighters and the public we serve.”
Wendel decried the lack of manpower and stated in the letter to Reaume that 12 firefighters are now expected to perform a workload that has increased by some 400 percent since 1979 when he was hired to bring staffing up to 15. He also explained that “on multiple occasions, the department has operated with only three full time firefighters on duty, effectively leaving only one ambulance in service.” Wendel reminded Reaume that the department does not meet the National Fire Protection Association National Standard for firefighter response.
He detailed the reasons the plan to hire part- time on-call firefighters has not worked and stated, “This program has been costly and not effective and should be discontinued.”
Wendel strongly criticized the current policy of handing patients off to an ambulance service for transport citing the interruption in care patients receive and the significant revenue the township forgoes by not billing for transport to hospitals as most communities do. He also said that the outside ambulance service is becoming less reliant and can add upwards of 4-6 minutes to response times in the township, “if they respond at all.” He recommended, “maintaining the current level of Advanced Life Support ambulance response and allowing the fire department to perform the trans- ports to offset operating costs.”
Wendel listed the current fire department equipment which, he said, “does not meet the current safety standards and are subject to failure with each passing day.” He noted that the township does not have an aerial truck to respond to multi-story buildings.
The Self Contained Breathing Apparatus bottles used by firefighters need replacing, he said, and will expire next year. The firefighters’ turnout gear is also set to expire next year, he said, and must be replaced. He also criticized the communications equipment which is so outdated parts are no longer avail- able, the thermal cameras which are 10 years old, and the defibulators which are 5-years-old and used on a constant daily basis.
“Keep in mind, there have been no capital purchases in the fire department over the last four years in trying to maintain a minimal operating budget,” Wendel stated.
The communications equipment is crucial to the deployment of fire fighters to any emergency situation and is the way in which dispatchers send emergency response teams to the scene.
Wendel also criticized the lack of support for the fire department from the township administration and noted that tensions have been high for more than three years, since the downsizing of the department began and union contract negotiations reached an impasse, forcing arbitration.
“The time has come to lead and stop laying fault and blame. All issues can be resolved if rational, level-headed people sit and work through the issues to everyone’s benefit,” Wendel stated in the letter.
Since early spring, board trustees have been requesting a report from Wendel regarding fire department operations.
One trustee asking for such a report was Bob Doroshewitz.
“While I supported fire reform, I am concerned that the model as implemented has not had the results that were expected and should be re-evaluated. I don’t agree with everything Chief Wendel said, but I do agree that parties on both sides should set aside their grudges and work together to ensure that our first priority is the safety of our families,” Doroshewitz said, in response to Wendel’s letter.
Wendel refused comment on his letter saying only that he considered it a privileged communication between himself and his direct supervisor (Reaume).
When the layoff and staff reductions began in the fire department in 2012, Reaume sent a newsletter to residents in which he stated that “the safety and security of everyone in Plymouth Township is our highest priority. You will continue to receive the same high-level, round-the-clock fire and paramedic service that you have always received.”
Subsequently, the fire department was reduced to only 12 full-time firefighters, or four per shift assigned to two stations. The Lake Pointe station, in the most populous section of the township, was closed because, according to Reaume’s newsletter, “the majority of calls for medical assistance came from the assisted living center.”
Reaume also said that the EMS and fire Mutual Aid would continue but last spring Canton Township, Northville Township and the City of Livonia informed Plymouth Township that their departments would no longer provide Mutual Aid in the township when a private ambulance service was also dis- patched to medical emergency calls.
In the most recent township newsletter, Reaume stated, “After almost a year in operation, the new streamlined Fire and EMS Department continues to perform at a very efficient level. …We are pleased to report that response times township-wide continue to be in the 4-minute and 20-second to 4- minute and 40-second timeframe.”
According to Google Maps, a fire engine or ambulance responding from Beck and Territorial Road Fire Station No. 3 to the Friendship Station-Senior Center on Schoolcraft Road, located in the Lake Pointe area would have to travel on Five Mile Road, a non-standard route, and have near perfect conditions with no traffic, to get there in 8 minutes. The distance is 4.1 miles. If Fire Station No. 1 on Haggerty and Ann Arbor Roads were dispatched to same address, according to Google Maps the distance is a shorter 2.9 miles and the travel time is 7 minutes, also with no traffic or trains blocking any roadways.
Fire engines travel at an average of 40 m.p.h. according to national reports. Reaume doesn’t say who is responding in his average time-frame, which could mean a police patrol car or a paid on-call firefighter in his car without fire or medical emergency equipment.
Wendel apparently disagreed with Reaume’s response claims, in his letter which stated, “The layoff of nine firefighters over the past two years has placed the department in jeopardy of failing to meet minimal response standards which may have dire consequences.”
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