Township board disputes fire chief’s report
WATCH VIDEO…FIRE CHIEF WAS SUBJECTED TO NEARLY CONSTANT INTERRUPTIONS AND QUESTIONS FROM TRUSTEES
Oct. 25, 2013 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Fire Department has no way to battle fires of more than one story or perform rescue work above ground level.
Fire Chief mark Wendel surprised some members of the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees during a special meeting last Tuesday.
During a 90-minute report on the current conditions of the town- ship fire department, Wendel suggested the township either fund the department with a dedicated millage or pursue a joint agreement with Northville Township in an effort to provide what he described as “adequate fire protection” for residents and accepted safety standards for fire fighters.
Wendel’s report was not on the agenda for the special meeting and only four people were in the audience to hear the presentation. Wendel used slides and presented large binders of reference materials to each board member, corroborating his conclusions. Wendel reiterated his grave concerns about fire safety, staffing, equipment and lack of support first sent to Township Supervisor Richard Reaume in a July 19 letter. Wendel outlined serious manpower issues; emergency response times and outdated equipment and said the state of the fire department was cause for grave concern in that communication.
Tuesday, he recommended that the current staff of 12 be increased to no fewer than 25 to handle the current workload and number of calls. He reminded the board members that there have been no capital purchases of any sort for the fire department in more than 5 years. He noted that the current fire trucks are from 1989 and 1992 and are no longer cost effective to operate and have failed on several occasions when responding to emergencies. The trucks, Wendel said, no longer meet basic safety requirement.
During his report, Wendel was subjected to nearly constant interruptions and questions from trustees. Treasurer Ron Edwards and Reaume refuted his comments throughout the presentation, while Township Clerk Nancy Conzelman implied that Wendel should be performing firefighter duties if the department was so critically understaffed. Wendel told the board members that the fire department staff has been “effectively cut by one-third” while the number of fire and emergency runs continues to increase.
“We are doing as much as we can with the resources we have available. The way you have to look at this is what level of service do you want to provide for the people?” Wendel said. The chief attempted to explain the difficulties experienced when the outside ambulance company, HVA, is not in the area or not available for back up EMS service, citing the danger to patients. Wendel also said the need for an aerial ladder truck to accommodate two-story home fires and rescues of various types is crucial. Currently, the department has no way to battle fires of more than one story or perform rescue work above ground level.
“There’s no sense in buying a piece of equipment you only will use once or twice a year…besides, nowadays (when there’s a fire) everybody’s coming,” Edwards retorted, referring to the Mutual Aid agreements with other communities.
At the end of his presentation which also detailed the age and poor condition of both the firefighters’ safety equipment and the medical equipment, such as defibrillators, used in medical emergencies, Wendel suggested two options to provide adequate protection for the community.
The first was a dedicated fire millage for all departmental expenses including staffing and equipment. He suggested that at the current rates, the department could be funded by a 2-mill tax. The 2-mill rate would generate about $3,450,000, and would cost the average Plymouth Township homeowner about 34 cents per day or $125.35 annually to fund an adequate fire and EMS service. He added that if the township would allow the fire department to perform patient transports to hospitals, as is the standard practice in most communities, that practice would generate a minimum of $400,000 annually toward the fire department budget.
Wendel’s second option was a joint agreement or merger with Northville Township to provide a combined fire and EMS service for the 56,021 residents of the two communities. He said the population breakdown would require Plymouth Township to pay 49.1 percent of the joint department expenses while Northville Township would pay 50.9 percent. Wendel stressed this breakdown was based on population, not use of services.
“This model for fire and EMS service would reduce overall operating cost and provide the highest level of service (vastly improving service levels) for both communities,” Wendel concluded.”
John Werth, public safety director in Northville Township said that municipality would be willing to discuss such an option.
“Northville Township will always look to in enhance service to its residents. We work cooperatively with other agencies on a daily basis…you have to have a willing partner with the ultimate goal of maintaining cost,” Werth said, regarding the proposed joint agreement.
The monthly Mutual Aid Study for Northville Township indicates that Northville Township, in conjunction with the Western Wayne County Mutual Association partnership, provided mutual aid to the Plymouth Township Fire Department a total of 39 times so far this year as opposed to receiving mutual aid from Plymouth Township in return only seven times.
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