Rochester City Council Addresses Future of Fire Department

By DREW HOWARD

The Rochester City Council discussed strategies for improving Rochester Fire Department response times during their latest meeting last Monday. Fire Study Committee members Terry Crockatt and Val Gatton presented to the council an extensive study on the RFD’s response times and strategies for improvement.

The committee based its findings around the generally-accepted standard for volunteer departments, which allows a station nine minutes to arrive on the scene starting at the initial phone call. Committee findings show the RFD failed to meet the standard with its fire response. Of the four “significant” structure fires in 2017, three had response times over nine minutes. The RFD has one full-time city employee, its fire chief, and 38 paid-on-call (POC) volunteers. The average POC was found to live around three miles away from the RFD.

Crockatt said the distance and a combination of other factors are to blame for the sluggish response times. “Based on the elements we looked at, response times are trending worse and on balance overshadowing whatever strengths and opportunities there are,” Crockatt told the council.

In an effort to create a more sustainable model, the committee suggested that the RFD be staffed with firefighters and EMS personnel at all times. This would require nine full-time positions and nine part-time POC positions total. Council members were not required to make a decision the night of the meeting, and instead tossed around feedback and ideas on how to move forward.

“I’m in complete support of this solution, we just have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” Council Member Ben Giovanelli said.

“When we come back to this I want to put a finer point on the budget.”

Council Member Dean Bevacqua suggested more research be done before accepting the committee’s proposal. “I’m in support of doing anything we need to do to get in line with national standards,” Bevacqua said. “It would make me feel more comfortable knowing we’ve turned over every stone, and didn’t jump to the full time option without considering everything.”

Several other council members echoed Bevacqua’s sentiments. Council Member Ann Peterson also agreed, though she noted she’d like to see POC volunteers earn better wages as soon as possible.

“I really wish we gave pay increases to POC way earlier,” Peterson said.

“Our emergency staffing is never paid enough in those fields as it is today. I want them paid well, so I’d rather see that happen sooner rather than later while we’re working through details.”

A Rochester Hills resident gave his two-cents on the issue during public comment, saying the RFD should also factor in how long it takes for emergency phone calls to reach dispatchers. “I myself had to call 9-1-1 from my house,” the resident said. “It took three attempts to get the call into the dispatch center, which took about a minute per attempt.”

“When you’re looking at the options, don’t just look at the nine minute response from our fire department – look at the whole user perspective.”

The council resolved to move the matter to a public hearing in April. The next Rochester City Council meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday, March 26. You can watch this week’s meeting online under the “City Webcast” section at www.ci.rochester.mi.us.