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Posted on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 11:43 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials considering move to have police chief take over fire chief duties

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor officials must decide how to respond to the recent resignation of Fire Chief Dominick Lanza. Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's public safety services director, oversees both the police and fire departments and is filling in as fire chief at least for now.

But the situation could become permanent. obtained records through a Freedom of Information Act request showing Jones went through a training program last year to become certified as a firefighter. That means he technically could be Ann Arbor's next fire chief.


Police Chief Barnett Jones, right, stands next to outgoing Fire Chief Dominick Lanza in this photo from last year.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje acknowledged for the first time tonight that having Jones serve a dual role as both the police chief and the fire chief is an option the city is considering to save money.

"When you look at it, what we're trying to do is retain firefighters in a very tough economic environment and that represents more than one position — what would be paid to the chief," Hieftje said. "I think that's going to be a discussion for the City Council."

Hieftje said Jones is "very competent and qualified" to fill the fire chief position, noting that he went through the firefighter training program.

"While he doesn't have the specific many, many years of experience in that field, he does have many, many years of service and an exemplary record in safety services and certainly has worked with fire departments for a very long time," Hieftje said. "In fact, he's been overseeing ours and working with the fire chief for some time now."

Asked recently about the fire training program, Jones said he went through it as the city's public safety services director for the experience, not to become fire chief.

He wasn't immediately available for comment tonight.

Lanza came out of retirement when he was hired for the $108,000 fire chief post last March. The city cut five firefighter positions from his department last July.

In a departing letter to the City Council last week, Lanza criticized the city for reducing staffing in the Fire Department to what he said were potentially dangerous levels. He told the City Council last year the cuts to the department would be manageable, but said in his letter last week that staffing levels are below nationally recognized standards and the Ann Arbor Fire Department is a "one-fire incident department," meaning one substantial fire is all that can be handled at a time.

The city has hired a consultant to complete a staffing analysis in the Fire Department. The city continues to consider implementing a new system that would blend full-time professional firefighters with a staff of paid on-call firefighters, which Lanza warns against.

The City Council recently was presented with options for trimming nearly $1.2 million from the Fire Department's budget over the next two fiscal years. That includes eliminating up to 13 firefighter positions. The council is expected to make a final decision in May.

The city is in negotiations with the firefighters union and is asking firefighters to start paying more toward rising health insurance costs to help avoid layoffs. The average firefighter in Ann Arbor makes nearly $80,000 a year, including base pay and overtime.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has laid out plans for a new incentive-based revenue-sharing program that would force cities like Ann Arbor to address employee compensation costs as any union contracts are negotiated — including requiring employees to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance premiums — in order to receive a large chunk of state funding.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Perhaps its time for the fire dept to start promoting chiefs from within !


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 4:05 a.m.

20% deductable, that's what I have. If I was a union guy, I'd be reluctant to give anything up too if I could get away with it. Born, throw that fire hat into the ring. The police chief has "management" experience. He doesn't have to fight the fires. Look at the condition of Lanza would a ladder even hold that kind of weight?


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

I don't see how the City has any choice. The last two departures of Fire Chiefs show how difficult it is to get qualified professionals to preside over cuts that will cripple service. Chief Jones is a proven leader with the qualities they need.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.

I don't know if it was that it was difficult to find someone qualified as it is few people are interested in the job with the history of city council trimming pay etc and gutting the FD. Also, I would assume that no one wants to take the job internally knowing how crappy a position it is. The job has no security and would make your hair turn grey or fall out pretty quickly.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

I would think they'd look at promoting someone within the dept who actually had fought a fire in their lifetime and also had training in budget, liabilities etc. Doesn't the city train internal staff other than the police chief?


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

For once it will be good to see a highly paid administrator in Ann Arbor city government pull their weight.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

Just because you've watched "Backdraft" or "Ladder 49" or "The Towering Inferno", it doesn't make you a firefighter. Ultimately, the Fire Chief is the Incident Commander at Major Fires, Disisters, etc...the last thing i'd want is for a Police Chief to direct Firefighters into a burning building...Of course, when your city council thinks that a Million Dollar Urinal is more important than fire protection, what would you expect?


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

Jones did not go through "the firefighter training program." He went through a firefighting course which was 100% lecture, there was no practical skill training. I don't know how long the course was, but I'm sure it was not the 6-month + course that paid-on-call firefighters around here go through. And in the end, he was granted a Firefighter 1 & 2 certificate, just the same as what you get from the 6-month course. Kind of like getting an honorary degree from a prominent University, you get the recognition but you didn't do any of the work or truly get any of the knowledge.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

This is not something the city is "considering". This was the plan all along. A former police chief declared himself fire chief in between fire chief searches and was ousted due to not being a certified firefighter. Mr. Jones participation in a fire academy was clearly in response to this bit of history. Why do we have to play these silly games. If the intent is to have someone in charge who is willing to dismantle the FD why not just say so and get on with it? By the way, will Mr. Jones be receiving an increase in salary to be the safety services director, the police chief, and the fire chief? Will he actually work any more hours or accomplish any more work?


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

This is a very thoughtful outlook... I guess the city is switching over to a "lowest bidder" system. Those willing to take the job for the lowest bid will get the title. I bet Mr. Jones didn't pay for that FF course.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

So in Ann Arbor, that means I can take the basic police academy w/o working day one on the job, and now I'm qualified to be the police chief? Only in Ann Arbor.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

Sounds to me as if you are acting/responding on emotions. Are you one of the fire fighters that are next to be laid off? Whether you respect him or not, you will have to work with him. Blogging about everything you don't like isn't going to garner you any favor with him or the city. Whether he took an "accelerated" course or not he is the Public Services Safety Director. That being said, the fire department needs to learn how to work with him, not against him. Stop fighting and resisting change, that as I said before, is inevitable. I'm not 100% happy with my employer or how they run their company, but it's theirs to run how they choose. The same goes with the city, it's a business, they run their business as they choose. Either you work with them or you go elsewhere.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:11 a.m.

You might want to consider knowing what you're talking about before making so many comments. Food for thought. Mr Jones did not take a normal fire academy. It was an 'excelerated' course and more of an honorary certificate. I have no respect for a chief of a fire department telling me about policy who has never walked 5 minutes in our shoes. How about when you're house is on fire or you are having a heart attack, we just stop and let Mr. Jones tell us what we need to do. Food for thought...


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

I view this differently. If I was the police chief who was appointed as the Public Services Safety Director, I would WANT to participate in a fire fighter training program to gain some knowledge. I assume it's a bit challenging to oversee a department you have minimal knowledge of. I would also think YOU, as a firefighter, and the rest of your department would appreciate and support his efforts. It seems there is a fair amount of tension in and between the fire and police department. These articles seem to be one-sided at times and don't tell all sides of the story. Currently have no chief and there is possibility that Mr. Jones will be taking on that responsibility permanently. Change seems inevitable, you might want to consider being more responsive to it and not so resistant. Just food for thought.

Jim Nazium

Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 10:22 a.m.

Dual roles huh, well, it should Never be considered unless you live in Mayberry and have 'Ol Andy Taylor as your man. At least he was very honest and trusted to do the right thing, let alone only a TV character. This is Real life people, and having a competent Fire Chief is vital in making day to day decisions that affect preserving human lives and property and serving as a role model for the whole fire department. But don't get me wrong, serving two roles for the good of the city is very possible in some regards and a noble one indeed... I propose all City Officials, beginning now, go around in a City work vehicle and spend 10 hours a week: -Cleaning snow -Picking up Trash -Painting or repairing derelict buildings or structures -Mentoring troubles youth -Babysitting for those who can't afford it -Serving the homeless community -Planting trees This would be a "Sacrifice" that would prove an official is willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Brilliant! I couldn't agree more.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 10:34 a.m.

Great idea Jim !!!


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 9:26 a.m.

Speaking of Fire Chiefs........I thought we could all use a smile today. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 9:24 a.m.

Holy smokes!! (no pun intended) You take one firefighter course and that qualifies you to be fire chief for the City of Ann Arbor? No experience ever managing a fire dept? You don't have one person in the department with decades of experience in firefighting management knowledge who could handle the duties? Are you looking for a person with deep knowledge of firefighting needs, requirements, liabilities, etc? Or are you looking for someone who whistles the city hall tune? Seriously, just wondering. What in the world is going on in city hall?


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 8:53 a.m.

The City has a problem keeping Fire Chiefs around. They last few Chiefs were real freifighters and wouldn't stand to be the Citiy's pawn in dismantling the FD. Jones is a police officer and his priority are police officers. I am sure he will sacrafice the FD to save a few cops. One current example is he got an early retirement for the police but firefighters were hit with layoffs. Plus it will be even more embarrassing if they hired another outside canidate that left after a few months because things are so screwed up.

say it plain

Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 4:34 a.m.

Hmm, does the Ann have a 'thing' about supporting snyder and dissing unions lately lol?! As I understood Mr. Lanza's recent statements, it was more about expressing concern that the city is considering moving to a paid-oncall system and such, not some sort of about-face on staffing levels as this article so insidiously implies with the sentences about &quot;...he previously told the City that these staffing cuts were manageable&quot;...