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Posted on Thu, May 20, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Ann Arbor firefighters union disputes chief's claim that response times won't be affected by cuts

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor fire Capt. Tim Flack, left, chats with Fire Chief Dominick Lanza at the downtown station on Wednesday afternoon. The firefighters union is disputing Lanza's assertion that the department has enough firefighters to meet state and national standards even with the loss of five more positions.

Melanie Maxwell |

The Ann Arbor Fire Department will see its ranks decrease by five positions starting July 1 under budget cuts approved this week, but the impact of that remains to be seen.

Fire Chief Dominick Lanza told the City Council on Monday the reduction is small enough that it will be manageable. He said the city still will be able to put at least four firefighters on the scene of a fire as quickly as it does today.

He also said the city will be able to put 18 firefighters on the scene of a working fire within eight minutes, which is required to meet state and national standards.

But members of the IAFF Local 693 firefighters union now are disputing those assertions, saying the department already does not meet the state and national standards for response times with its existing staff of 94 full-time employees.

"We're a substandard fire department right now," said Lt. Craig Ferris, who believes the chief presented false information. "We want to get the right information out there. We can't have someone stating things that aren't true. When a person stands up in front of City Council and the mayor and says things that are that inaccurate, and in the end are leading to cuts in the fire department, we have to take a stand."

Union officials met with Lanza on Wednesday morning to relay a report they prepared showing the department's current abilities to respond to fires based on data from recent runs and GIS analysis.

The GIS analysis, conducted in 2008, reveals the department's best response provides for 17 firefighters in under eight minutes in just 24.8 percent of the city. The union claims the department has not had the ability to send 18 firefighters to the scene of a fire in less than eight minutes since 2003 and that it provided that information to Lanza in March.

Based on an analysis of recent call data, the union's report claims that the quickest time to assemble 18 firefighters at the scene of a fire was 11 minutes.

The national standard for putting 18 firefighters on a scene in under eight minutes comes from the National Fire Protection Association and is known as NFPA 1710.


From left, Dwauna Sharper, Skye Bryant, Sean Dobbins, 6, and Deborah Byrant watch as Ann Arbor firefighter Tim Karolak demonstrates how to use his gear during a tour of the downtown station on Wednesday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell |

Having four firefighters on a scene is a separate rule adopted by the department. That's the minimum number of firefighters required on scene to enter a burning building if someone is believed to be trapped inside. The union's data shows it has taken an average of 6.7 minutes to put five firefighters on a scene.

Lanza, who has been on the job two months, said he's going to closely examine the data presented by the union members and meet with them next week.

"They have voiced to me their concern that we are perhaps lacking in the amount of times that we have an 18-person response and I am taking those numbers and reviewing them," he said. "I believe we are meeting the standards. However, that's subject to review."

Lanza acknowledged there are certain times when it takes longer than eight minutes to put 18 firefighters on the scene of a fire, but that doesn't happen on every occasion.

"What I have to look at is how frequently that occurs and there's always going to be outliers no matter what you're dealing in," he said. "Response times are basically based on fire station locations and where the apparatus is when they get the call."

Based on data he has seen, Lanza said the department's average response time is under six minutes. That's the time it takes to get the first vehicle on the scene of an emergency, starting from the time the trucks leave the station.

Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters union, said he's disappointed that the city is pushing ahead with layoffs he thinks will jeopardize pubic safety. He thinks the layoffs can be avoided through other cost savings.

"We think there's money within the fire department to maintain our staffing," he said. "We think we can come up with some more savings that could save the three or four jobs that are left out in the open and we'd like to have some more conversation about that money and we'd like to save those jobs that are still looming."

While five positions are being eliminated, Lanza said the net result of the cuts likely will be three or four layoffs since one of the positions is vacant and Lanza is discussing plans for a potential restructuring of the department. There also are several firefighters eligible for retirement that could hang up their hats to help avoid layoffs altogether.

"That's a personal decision that they have to make and currently there's not an incentive to do that," Lanza said. "The city's not in a financial posture to do a buyout."

Even with five positions gone, Lanza said he feels strongly that the department will be able to maintain its current levels of service — albeit minimally.

"Anytime you reduce the number of people performing a job, it's not that the job's not going to get done," he said. "It's that it will take either more resources or a greater length of time to accomplish. There's going to be different measurable effects and that's all to be looked at and we are going to be looking at it."

Lanza held a meeting with firefighters on Wednesday to discuss the future of the department. He told them to expect changes to how business is done. He also announced plans for more community involvement initiatives — such as educational programs that will put firefighters in schools — to better educate the public about the role and value of the fire department.

In response to a recent fatal fire on State Street, Lanza said he also is going to be proposing a citywide ban on upholstered furniture on porches. He also is in the process or preparing a series of public service announcements.

"Whatever we can do to protect the citizens," he said. "It's a change in mindset, a new paradigm. And hopefully when we take these actions, it'll lessen the amount of serious fires that we will have where people could suffer losses or injuries."

Lanza said he's looking forward to sitting down with the union to talk about those ideas and more next week and hopefully reach common ground.

"We are going to sit down and go over some options we have to maintain the number of personnel that we have, but maybe do things more efficiently and cost effectively," he said. "Because there's a danger that we're going to face this problem again next year — not just in the fire department, but in the city in general — unless revenues turn around."


The firefighters union presented this GIS analysis conducted in 2008 that revealed the department's best response provides for 17 firefighters in under eight minutes in just 24.8 percent of the city, failing to meet national standards.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Sat, May 22, 2010 : 12:27 a.m.

Idk bell, the fire department could raise it's own money. A barbecue, a bake sale, one of those hottie calenders, I'd buy one for $14.95, you know, the buff chests, those suspenders, those boots, the....the helmet. Got to love it.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

I hope if my house ever catches fire there will be more fire fighters on the job then less. I also hope that they don't send the new chief. I don't think he's in shape to climb a ladder.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

If the FF union took real and meaningful cuts to pay/healthcare and benefits, no one would have had to be let go. Don't blame this on greedy taxpayers please.

Dominick Lanza

Thu, May 20, 2010 : 6:33 p.m.

Okay so we have a group buying into the fireifghters claims. Were any of you at the meeting or watched it? I did the Fire Chief said they would still be able to respond all the vehicles they have now. He also said after reorganizing and shift responsibilities he could maintain the number of personnel available for duty each day. Its a shame anyone has to lose a job but with six trucks to respond just like we have had for many years how will response times be compromised? I checked, the firefighters union contract allows seven firefighters per shift off duty for vacation and other things and for 3 months during the year at the choosing of the UNION there are 8 allowed off. Do we need that many off or can the firefighters compromise at NO cost to them to keep more people on duty? Our new fire chief has been here less than 3 months we went from losing nineteen firefighters to 4 through the efforts of the council and some econimizing by the Chief as was stated when council read the amedment on this issue. Our firefighters are great and dedicated but lets deal in real facts the staff is dropping by 4 the number of truck with three people on each remains the same so how are response times compromised. Unlike the Lieutenant who shot off his mouth I dont believe we have a substandard fire department rather the finest best staffed and most dedicated in this County and many more. Thanks to those dedicated men and women,these sour grapes do not reflect on you or your dedication to me I am glad you are here.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 5:03 p.m.

@ Bob I don't know if that answers what Gill is talking about. Are you talking about the buyout now or the buy out years ago? The one I believe Gill is taplking about were not buy out, they were retirments by Fire Chief, new Fire Chief is promoted & retires quickly with new level of pay etc...


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 4:35 p.m.

Hey Gill, There was an article on the early buyout that was offered. In a nut shell it explained how the city council spent more time on the proposed pet ordinance than discussing the buyout, which the City Admininstrator walked out the door with as well. Oh, and another thing often forgotten with this buyout, had those employees not retired an equal number off fire fighters would have been layed off. Let's see the city offers me a package to leave or I can stay and watch someone get layed off. Tough choice hey?


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

It seems to me that the new chief is desperately trying to tread water being poured into his pool of information by both the city admin and the ff union. This disagreement of term is a clear sign that they have a long way to go. NFPA 1710 is a recommended statisticly drawn guideline. The whole NFPA book is there to help set some type of measuring standard that tries to keep firefighters as safe as they can be on the job. Not everyday is a dangerous day, but when a firefighter's day get's dangerous it is something special to see. They go where other's can't or won't for total strangers on a moments notice. The union is not to blame for the cities' financial problems, the whole economic climate is. Saline's numbers would be way worse with only 2 people on duty and no guarnatee of paid-on-call response. Good Luck to both the AAFD Chief and Union!!

Karen Sidney

Thu, May 20, 2010 : 2:31 p.m.

The adopted FY11 budget reduces fire staffing from 94 to 89 positions. Here is what former Safety Services Director Dan Oates had to say about fire staffing in a Feb 10, 2005 press release Since 2001, Ann Arbor's Fire Department staff has shrunk from 126 to 94 personnel, and has reached what the Fire Chief and Safety Services Administrator believe is the bottom floor of sustainable operations. Two years ago, the Fire Department deployed 24 firefighters to manage six fire stations and operate eight trucks. Today, the City maintains five stations with 15 firefighters to staff five trucks, plus one Battalion Chief per shift. This is the minimum staffing and equipment level recommended.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 2:30 p.m.

Back when was a printed newspaper, was there an article about how the firefighters fanagled their time to achieve six digit figures in retirement? Was their contract changed to prevent this from happening in the future?


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 2:29 p.m.

"As far as NFPA 1710 goes, this is only one hundreds of standards and guidelines published by the National Fire Protection Association, and (as such) it is not applicable or enforcible unless specifically adopted by Ordinance or Collective Bargaining Agreement." So then, the standards are not valid? Is that what your trying to say? The experts decide that this is whats needed and you can make them go away by ignoring them? Is that what the 21st century means to you? Maybe you should look at the paper from time to time. What I read highlights the importants of adequate emergency services. Adequacy is measured by standards met. This applies to everything. Not just the emergency services.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 1:43 p.m.

Come on Ann Arbor Firefighters, look around you. There are full-time departments all over the world who would kill to have your manpower - not to mention your wages, benefits, training and equipment. How about turning off the TVs and picking-up a newspaper for a change?? It's time you guys (and gals) get into the 21st century. As far as NFPA 1710 goes, this is only one hundreds of standards and guidelines published by the National Fire Protection Association, and (as such) it is not applicable or enforcible unless specifically adopted by Ordinance or Collective Bargaining Agreement.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 12:04 p.m.

I didn't mean to imply the fire chief wasn't a firtefighter.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

Oh, the union this time.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 11:55 a.m.

So do you believe the Fire Chief or the union? Again, this about jobs, not response time.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

I think it is important to know how Ann Arbor's response time and firefighters on scene compares to the townships. The people who live in the townships don't seem worried about fire protection and their taxes are a lot lower.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 10:52 a.m.

I think it's clearly about response times. Standards are adopted for a reason. In the instance of public saftey. For a very good reason. The conflict between the workers (organized) and the bosses. Is old hat. I think the key for us is to know when we should listen to who. The evidence seems to be overwhelmingly on the side of these firefighters.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

I believe this is more about union jobs versus funding and less about response times.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

aataxpayer - Saline is not full time and with mutual aide agreements might actually get 18 to the scene quicker. I am not sure if there is a difference in full time and non-full time departments when it comes to standards. Does anyone else know? I also am wondering if the standard is suppose to be from the time a station is dispatched, not from the time the truck leaves the station. Maybe the union numbers are based on the dispatch time which would make both correct in what they are saying. In any case they are lucky they are loosing only 5 positions.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8:31 a.m.

Unions disputing what ever is said by management is no story. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the MEA or the Firefighter's Union their solution is always the same. Hire more people and pay people more.

Steve Pepple

Thu, May 20, 2010 : 7:41 a.m.

A comment was removed because it was off-topic.