Interim Fire Chief Martin
I had the pleasure of meeting today with Sterling Heights’ new interim Fire Chief Chris Martin. I enjoyed our discussion, and I came away with information I didn’t have before about the Sterling Heights Fire Department.
Mr. Martin has an amazing number of facts and figures in his head regarding the Fire Department, how it is structured and organized, why it began performing Advanced Life Support runs, how well it is staffed since the recent reduction to three-man crews, and the challenges his department faces in terms of funding, public opinion, and sustainability of service levels. From hearing the man speak at city council meetings, I already knew he was passionate; now I have a new appreciation for his education and the depth of knowledge he brings to the job.
As we all know, the city will be introducing a public safety millage on the ballot, probably during the 2013 election cycle. I think it’s basically up to the Police and Fire Departments to justify the tax increase to the residents based on their merits and by demonstrating how well they serve the city. Their current public relations effort is hampered somewhat by staff reductions at City Hall, and in my opinion they have not successfully gotten the message out about what value they bring to the table on a daily basis. For example, Chief Martin told me a story this afternoon about a recent newspaper article in the Macomb Daily where one of the firefighters in a neighboring city had delivered a baby. What went unnoticed by the media, however, was the fact that the Sterling Heights FD had done the same thing — multiple times, the same week, prior to the delivery in another town. The disparity in the news coverage is palpable, and it’s something he told me they are trying to work on.
Chief Martin and I may not always agree. He represents a city department that is supported by taxes, and it comes at a significant, and ever-increasing cost to residents. My understanding has always been that if the pile of money on the table is substantial enough, people will come out of the woodwork with opinions on how it should be spent, and my opinions may differ from his from time to time. On the other hand, better articulating the value the department brings to the city is a worthwhile goal, and reaching out to the public as Mr. Martin has done with me is a sign that the department’s philosophy is one of service to the public, rather than to itself. And that is welcome news.