Fire chief resigns after 50 years on duty

Apr. 30,2014  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.

Plymouth Michigan News


Don Howard

Staff Writer


Fire Chief Jim Allen who leads the department that serves the City of Northville and the City of Plymouth is stepping down this summer after a half century of service.

Allen remains the only paid full-time employee on the fire department staff that serves the two cities. He said he’s retiring 50 years after he first accepted a part-time job as a paid-on-call firefighter with the 30-member Village of Northville department in 1964.

Still working as the sexton for city-owned Rural Hill Cemetery, Allen, 77, reminisced about his long career last week and recalled some of the most significant fires and memories during his time with the department.

Allen recalled details of three separate plane crashes in the city and a fire that shot propane tanks into the air “like missiles…and that really scared me.”

Not much has changed in the way the fire department operates since Allen’s first days as a volunteer.

He said he wanted a change, to do some- thing different after high school graduation, but he wasn’t about to give up his job at the Allen Monument Co., a family business started by his father in 1937. The business, now known as the Inch Monument Co. continues to thrive in Northville, under different ownership. Allen said he was proud of all his years on

the job and of his fire department staff. He added that he doesn’t respond to fire calls when he’s working on a funeral at the cemetery, however.

“When they call on the radio, I just say, ‘I’m at the cemetery’.”

Allen is sensitive about the merger of the two fire departments he helped put together at the request of Plymouth City Manager Paul Sincock in 2011, and is defensive of any criticism about the paid-on-call type of fire service now serving the communities versus the full-time fire service in neighboring communities.

“Seventy-five percent of the firefighters nationwide are paid-on-call.” Allen said.

Under the current Inter-Local Fire Service Agreement, Northville provides for a fire advisory board and has full responsibility for staffing at the two fire stations; one in Northville and one in downtown Plymouth. Emergency 911 calls are answered by a staff of 30 to 55 part-time, paid on-call firefighters.

“Sincock asked if (I) could put together a fire-department, and we’ve done it,” Allen said.”

“For 17 years there was no fire station in the city-until the joint agreement with Northville,” Allen said, referring to the fire station at 201 South Main St. in downtown Plymouth. That station was not staffed by the former joint fire department of the city and township of Plymouth. That full-time department used the three township-owned stations surrounding the city limits.

“I was happy to have the opportunity to bring two community fire departments into one. It was a challenge,” Allen said.

“It takes a special type person who wants to be a paid on-call firefighter.”

Allen does predict some “bumps in the road” in the future of the department.

He said he feels the fire department will have to accept regionalization in the future, citing utilization and sharing of equipment as the reason. “We’ve all got to work together.” Allen said.

Allen who has two grandchildren, a son who’s a lieutenant in the Redford Fire Department and a daughter who works as a Northville billing department clerk, said if he had to do it all over again, he’d make the same career choice, with one small caveat.

“I would want to be a full-time firefighter,” he said.

A retirement banquet in Allen’s honor is planned for 6-10 p.m. June 26 at the Italian American Banquet Center on five Mile Road in Livonia. Tickets are $40 and available at Northville City Hall.

For more information, phone Lt. Jason Jordan at (248) 912-8611.


Editor’s note:

About the time Allen was attending Northville High School, the attorney who was the secretary and record keeper for the privately owned Rural Hill Cemetery was killed in a car crash.  Northville took over the ownership and management of the cemetery and gave the records job to the Allen family business because of their relationship with the area funeral directors. Jim Allen became the official Cemetery Sexton, a job he still holds the today and plans to keep.

Plymouth Voice.

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