The Fire Department and The Budget

Tonight, Paul Smith will propose a $5.6 million cut to the Fire Department’s budget for 2012/13 via a restructuring of the department to what he terms as a ‘move toward paid on call or a volunteer department’.   Re-examining the role of the Fire Department in Sterling Heights is an idea that has a great deal of merit.

If you study the numbers regarding the number of runs the Fire Department performs annually, one thing becomes abundantly clear: they spend far more time on medical emergencies than they do putting out fires.  Essentially what we have in Sterling Heights is an emergency medical service that also happens to be pretty well equipped to fight fires.

One of the problems, of course, is that the firefighters do not actually transport patients to the hospital, despite their recent overtures to city council to begin performing this service.  For each and every medical run that requires transport, a third party vendor comes in and supplies the ambulance.  Thus, every Fire Department medical run that results in a patient transport is redundant and unnecessary!

Although the Fire Department’s response times are laudable, the fact is that Sterling Heights’ emergency medical needs are being used to justify a Fire Department that is too large and too expensive given the actual historical need for fighting fires in this town.   The private vendor could just as easily perform all of the medical runs in Sterling Heights, and given an adjustment to the way the runs are handled, the vendor could probably achieve the same response times.   The city could easily transfer all the expense of providing emergency medical service to a third party.  It should do so.

Considering the fact that Sterling Heights was developed during a period of time when more modern fire codes were in effect compared to cities such as Detroit, our need for fire fighting will probably remain relatively low in the future.  This is not to say, however, that I think a move to a volunteer department would be a wise one.  I have personally consulted with Troy’s Fire Chief, and his position is that a move to a volunteer department would not work in Sterling Heights.  I take him at his word.

As far as “paid on call” is concerned: anything that takes firefighters out of the station does a great deal of  damage to response times.  I would be more willing to see a department that does less but still has people on staff 24/7/365–perhaps in fewer stations– than one that removes fire fighters from the stations.

In the end, I think Paul Smith is right: we need to reconsider the role and expense of our Fire Department.  I may differ with Mr. Smith in the approach he wants to take in doing so, but he is correct to say that the current department is no longer affordable.


Posted on April 24, 2012, in Issues and views. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Agreed. We don’t need the expensive Fire Department that we have. We rarely have fires. Every individual person they help on a given ‘run’ is actually logged as a separate run to inflate their numbers. Fire trucks are used for trips to the grocery store and Saturday morning breakfast at Old House and other places. I’ve seen it on many occasions. Hopefully the required truck is not at the wrong end of it’s assigned zone should we ever actually have a fire somewhere. Heck one of the newly renovated FD’s was even built wrong so they can’t part the truck inside (and open the doors). It actually has to be parked away from the department!

    Universal’s response times will be equally fast to those of the redundant Fire Department runs as long as the 911 department gets the message that medical emergencies should be routed to Universal FIRST. Right now the FD is called first and given ample time to get to scene before Universal is called. Makes the FD look good but doesn’t really serve our citizens well.

    • Ellania Sylva Allor

      I am sad to have heard such negativity has been issued with the Sterling Heights Fire men. You should be a shamed of your self. I have been waiting on these men my self for 15 Years @ the Old House. I have seen them walk into the Old House and order and have to leave right a way and sometimes do no return. They are supporting a small local business. These Firemen serve the citizens of Sterling Heights. They do their job. They make me proud of them.
      Thank you

  2. The fire chief stated that he can do the same with the new budget and the layoffs.This is a start.You will be hard pressed to find anyone sympathetic to fireman when the chief said each station went on one fire run per week last year. 5fires? 90 fireman.I don’t think so.And when the top 5 fire employees made from 130,000 to a whopping 183,000 on the check last year.There is more to cut. I applaud Mr. Smith

  3. Will Universal Ambulance be willing to sign a contract guaranteeing an average response time of 4 1/2 minutes? Will they also be willing to sign a contract stating they will have 7 ALS and 2 BLS vehicles in the city (the present Fire Department/Universal Ambulance deployment)? Probably not on both accounts but anything less is a reduction in service to the residents. My understanding is that the Fire Department is dispatched to emergencies first because they have the closest ALS unit available the vast majority of the time. Universal ambulances have had to come to Sterling Heights from as far away as south Warren and even Detroit because they were the closest ambulances available leaving the Fire Department paramedics waiting!

    As a health care professional let me assure you that time is heart tissue and brain matter. Literally minutes count. Your chance of surviving a cardiac arrest are about 50/50 at the 5 minute mark and decrease by 10% every minute after that. Your window for aggressive hospital treatment (which includes x-rays, MRI’s as well as other test for contraindications) of a CVA is only 3 hours after the onset of symptoms. Everyone is worried about the cost of health care until it is they or there loved one needing it and then they feel no expense should be spared.

    • Mr. B –
      I would argue that a change in who’s handling emergency medical response would require a contract such as you mention. I am unsure as to the specific numbers you state, but since you work for the FD I’ll take you at your word.

      By the way, I do manually approve all posts to this blog, and I typically insist people use their real names. Since it was trivial to figure out who you were, I’m letting your post through, but I would ask that in the future you use your real name. I find it interesting that you describe yourself as a “health care professional” instead of a firefighter, which sort of underscores my entire point about our Fire Department being an emergency medical service that happens to be really well equipped to put out fires.


  4. Let me correct some misconceptions and explain the existing EMS provided within the city. Universal Ambulance provides 2 ALS ambulances while the Fire Department supplies 5 ALS engines, 1 BLS heavy rescue, and 1 BLS ladder truck ending up with 7 ALS and 2 BLS rigs. This system allows for an average response time of 4 ½ minutes. I believe you will have a difficult time matching the existing quality of service by removing the Fire Department from the equation unless there is a contractor who is willing to deploy a number of rigs that will match that time.
    The statement that each patient is a new run number is incorrect. As an example, you have a 3 car accident with 4 people injured. This is logged in as ONE run number and the reports area done as patient 1 of 4, 2 of 4, and so on but all under the same run number. There is no need to pad run numbers as they are increasing every year.
    Another misconception is dispatching. We have a dispatch system in place that a 911 call comes in the address is queued up on a computer with all information regarding section number street number and address location as well as the appropriate emergency unit available (police and/or fire) to respond. As soon as a determination has been made as to the type of run the information is transmitted to the station the internet or to the closest apparatus instantaneously. This is referred to as a “Rip & Run” system. UMAS is dispatched by calling one of the 2 units on the phone.
    Also, let me assure you all our apparatus fit in the stations and are housed here in Sterling Heights.

%d bloggers like this: