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Posted on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials discuss strategies for improving fire department without closing stations

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje attempted to put the issue of closing city fire stations to rest Monday night after a heated discussion ensued during a City Council work session.

"I think it would be beneficial to take it off the table," Hieftje said of Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard's proposal still lingering from more than a year ago to switch from five to three stations.

"It seems very apparent that it's not going anywhere," Hieftje said of the restructuring plan that had the city administrator's support.


A proposal to close fire stations in Ann Arbor won't be going forward, Mayor John Hieftje said during a council work session Monday night.

Joseph Tobianski I

"I don't think it has anywhere close to the majority of council's support, so this may be a good time to just say let's continue to work with the stations we have."

The question came up after Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent who represents the 2nd Ward, asked Hubbard if he still thought closing fire stations and going to a three-station model was a valid option. It was listed as an option in a staff report to council Monday night.

"As far as I'm concerned, yes, it is still a valid option," Hubbard said, explaining how consolidating the fire department's limited staffing into three stations could help with fire responses by making sure each station has a minimum of four firefighters at any given time.

He believes that would get the department closer to meeting national standards that suggest four firefighters should arrive at a fire within four minutes 90 percent of the time. He also acknowledged there could be some instances where it takes an extra two or three minutes, though.

Hubbard's comments sparked a discussion among council members, most of whom indicated they're not convinced closing fire stations is the way to go. Multiple council members thanked the mayor for, as they saw it, effectively ending the idea of closing stations.

"Our community deserves that closure," Lumm said. "People just want to see us provide a high-level of fire emergency services and meet industry standards for response time."

Lumm, who wants to increase fire staffing, encouraged the fire chief to give guidance to council on how to meet community expectations without closing fire stations.

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, passed along praises for the fire department from a resident whose dryer caught fire recently.

"He also was adamant that if that truck had to come from somewhere else other than the station on Huron Parkway (one of three the city has considered closing), their house would not have been saved," he said, stressing the importance of having stations near neighborhoods.

Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, noted the city still has a fire station that's been closed for several years: Station 2 at Stadium and Packard.

"I've heard repeatedly that Station 2 is an integral piece because of where it's situated, as far as providing support to every other station," she said, adding she'd be curious to know the cost of staffing Station 2.

John Seto, the city's public safety administrator, gave a report to council Monday night in which he acknowledged the city's fire staffing and deployment is not optimized to meet the National Fire Protection Association standards for fire suppression.

The fire department has 86 full-time employees, and so far there are no proposals on the table to either reduce or increase that number heading into the new fiscal year July 1.

One of the city's stated goals for the fire department is to have fire stations — both in numbers and locations — optimized to meet community needs and industry standards within resources.

Seto and Hubbard are in agreement the city needs to clarify what it means by "community needs," and whether priority should be placed on both fire suppression and medical response.


Hubbard suggested the city could reduce the daily minimum staffing needed at the city's fire stations — without closing any stations — by deploying more light rescue vehicles that can be operated by just two firefighters, whereas a typical fire truck requires a minimum of three firefighters.

Joseph Tobianski |

Given the daily minimum staffing requirements set forth in contracts with the firefighters union, they said, it would require hiring 23 new firefighters to keep each of the city's five existing fire stations staffed with a minimum of four firefighters each day.

Seto talked about the cost of hiring additional firefighters in terms of the "five-year cost," or what each would cost after five years with built-in pay increases. The five-year cost for each additional firefighter works out to $86,912 annually, he said, plus a $10,128 one-time cost.

Hubbard suggested the city could reduce the daily minimum staffing needed at the city's fire stations — without closing any stations — by deploying more light rescue vehicles that can be operated by just two firefighters, whereas a typical fire truck requires a minimum of three firefighters.

The cost of an additional light rescue vehicle is $264,500. Deploying additional light rescue vehicles, Seto said, could reduce minimum staffing requirements without impacting medical responses.

Council Member Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, said the city has been talking about light rescue vehicles for a long time.

"I'm not sure why we haven't moved ahead in that direction, because I thought it was pretty clear a while back that was going to be a great cost saver," she said.

Hubbard said the city did go through a bid process for a light rescue vehicle last year, but after it got down to the final stage, there were issues with the chosen vendor.

"So we have to re-bid it," he said.

He said there's a request for proposals awaiting review from the city attorney's office and it should be released soon. He noted the department does have one light rescue vehicle in service already.

He said the light rescue vehicles, although they don't carry any water, come equipped with all the necessary medical equipment, extrication equipment, and they still can respond to fires because the firefighters have their tools on the truck and their gear.

On a related note, Hubbard said he's expecting delivery of a new 100-foot aerial platform truck from Ohio-based Sutphen Corp. by next month. The new $1 million fire truck, which the council voted to approve last August, will replace a 75-foot ladder truck from 1999.

"Tomorrow is the final inspection down in Dublin, Ohio," Hubbard said. "The truck has been, for the most part, completed."

Lumm switched gears Monday night and brought up the issue of fire inspections at local businesses, which Hubbard has been aggressive about since taking over as fire chief in 2011.

She suggested commercial property and business owners are questioning the extra inspection fees they're paying now and wondering if it's a revenue grab by the city.


Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard appears before the Ann Arbor City Council during a budget-related work session Monday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The justification and rationale is not clearly understood," she said. "If it's a safety enhancement policy, that's one thing. If it's just a revenue enhancement policy, not so good."

Hubbard said the fire department's ramped-up efforts to inspect several hundred businesses annually is part of a new proactive approach to fire safety.

"That is what it's designed around," he said. "In our past history, we have not been very diligent in that area. I can't speak to why because I was not in this position at the time."

A line item labeled "charges for services" in the fire department's roughly $14 million budget was projected to bring in $742,476 in revenue this fiscal year. That's about five times the amount of revenue the department used to collect from those same charges.

A note in the budget explains the increase was associated with the planned increase in the number of annual fire inspections at local businesses. The fire department now has six fire inspectors — double the amount it used to have — under Hubbard's watch.

"These inspections are critical, as far as the safety of these businesses and the tenants inside," he said. "This was not designed around revenue. It was designed around safety for our citizens. We want to prevent fires, as opposed to going to put them out."

Another issue that surfaced Monday deals with the medical calls the fire department handles. Under cost-cutting measures put in place in April 2011, Ann Arbor firefighters now respond only to the most serious emergency medical calls — those classified as "Category 3."

They no longer leave the station for less serious incidents classified as either Category 1 or Category 2, instead leaving those up to Huron Valley Ambulance.

Hubbard said surrounding fire departments are handling Category 2 calls, meaning they handle major medical emergencies plus unknown calls.

"For example, if there's an unknown accident on the freeway," he said. "We wouldn't go if it comes in as an unknown … and we've missed some calls that we should have been on."

Teall asked how it would help the city to respond to those.

"It's a service to your citizens, because you've got people who might be trapped in their cars," Hubbard explained.

From the standpoint of future collaboration with surrounding fire departments, City Administrator Steve Powers said it would be a step in the right direction to handle more medical calls.

"Specifically for the discussion of collaboration, regionalization, working together with other agencies, it would establish a common shared platform," he said.

Teall asked about the cost of doing that. Hubbard said it could raise the city's costs by about $10,000 a year, but he said the service would be far better.

Mentioning a heart attack victim whose life was saved by the city's first responders, Kunselman said the fire department needs to continue making emergency medical calls a priority.

He said he's not sure how the city could hire 23 new firefighters to keep each of the city's fire stations staffed with four firefighters, but if it could at least hire a few more, it seems like city should be able to find a way to make sure at least the downtown station has four on duty at all times.

"So they can respond to the greater density and greater concern we have for our high-rises and things of that nature," he said.

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 email newsletters.


Dominick Lanza

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

Please tread cautiously when you talk about the "Light Rescues" those trucks have no water under the union contract they can be operated by two people if it carries water three are called for by contract as one person needs to operate the truck so two can enter the building. This is an effort to be able to reduce staffing which will hurt fire suppression abilities. If you operate two of them thats two less firefighters per day. If you go down that road soon there will be a bunch of red trucks running around that cant even put out a car fire let alone a building. My opinion only you are moving ahead dont take a step backwards


Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 2:02 a.m.

So now his Lordship (DaMayor) wants to table the discussion of closures that he so richly pioneered in the past. And his about face is because of what? It wouldn't matter if a couch is burning on the porch or inside the house. The fire department can't response in time anyway. It's just a matter of time before two major fires occur in the city and fire department won't have enough staff to fight both. Hopefully that "connected" side of town be saved. Who cares about the other. Oh. My bad. Pittsfield township will respond to a fire on the westside. Or will it be Ann Arbor township? Ypsilanti? Is Milan too far?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 1:03 a.m.

@Dominick Lanza: The citizens owe you thanks for speaking out publicly after you resigned. With your help and the help of others, we turned this around and instead of shrinking, the number of firefighters is finally growing back towards the levels required. Instead of closing fire stations, they will be maintained. Lastly, the city finally has the equipment (replacement ladder truck) to handle the job required. Thanks!

Dominick Lanza

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

How great to see the reversal by city council and administrator regarding Fire service in Ann Arbor. The most painful decision I ever made was resigning my position of Fire Chief in Ann Arbor I indeed loved the job. However the former administrator was set that the fire departments size and activities would be minimized less calls less firefighters. He demand that we severely limit the amount of medical response we had those the system that exists now I spoke vigorusly against a reduction in fact I want to increase our responses as I knew from 35 years experience how important they were . The day I was told to close fire stations instead of coming up with a plan to keep them open (which I already had) was the day I gave up hope of being productive and improving service. Actions such as firefighter layoffs and closing stations were not needed as I had a plan with my staff how to save the dollars to keep staff and keep stations open, but I was directed to do those things with no options. What a breath of fresh air to see the council and administrator place there attention on maintaining and improving fire services I only regret I am no longer there to help do it.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

thanks for your service and honest voice against the downsizing. What I never understood was this. Having 5 stations is better than 3 for a rapid response for all fires. Rarely do firefightere need to enter a building. In those circumstances, the 3 that do arive can be settng up and fighting the fire before the 4th arrives. They can even have all of their gear on and when the 4th man arrives, they can enter the building. I doubt that with a 4 man crew they just jump off the truck and instantly enter. It seemed that we were tilting the scales heavily towards the rare entering a building Vs a rapid response for the average fire or rescue.

Linda Peck

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

Let's take some of the dreaming money that City Council spends on possible wonderland projects and put the money into opening the Stadium fire station and hiring more fire personnel. While we are at it, let's hire more police personnel and fix the roads. Enough of the pie in the sky. Let's get down to basics, and once these are fixed and operating, talk about dream projects.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

One more curious observation from the discussion - Police Chief Seto said that to establish department effectiveness he must use FBI crime statistic measurement and reporting for cities with 100,000 to 250,000 residents. And that under those numbers we have a comparatively low crime rate here with only 114,000 people. Usually the numbers reported grow with city size. A. Ann Arbor police are often blocked out of UM criminal response (until too late). Even if it is in Ann Arbor territory (ie. date rape at Zaragon Place). Per the Clery Handbook, there is supposed to be a UM Memorandum of Understanding with AAPD to cover such cases - is there an MoU? Would that increase the need for more "pro-active" UM-AAPD cross-over coverage? B. The UM campus consists of about 46,000 students and tens of thousands of employees. That effectively puts the non-AAPD city population in the smaller than 100,000 size community. Clearly, there is dramatically less crime to report in those smaller cities. Rather than being a 12th percentile low crime statistic, Ann Arbor would have to be advertised as an 80th percentile high crime city in this smaller bracket. Would that "high crime" label encourage more concerned Council funding to reduce the true crime rate now existing in Ann Arbor per FBI standards?


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

Sorry, B should read "non-UM AAPD". The point being Ann Arbor is much smaller than 100,000 people and should have a larger amount of AAPD reported crime per person here. That requires more funding to deal with.

harry b

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

They should look at what Plymouth did. They combined resources with Canton and Northville. Save a ton of money and is working very well.

harry b

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

The unions came out if full force against this. They lost their fight and they were mad. You have to ignore the unions and other personal bias. Statistically speaking it is working great. Its still pretty new so we shall see.

Widow Wadman

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

I can't speak to how well it's really working but I have heard a couple of Plymouth Township residents express dissatisfaction. I like the idea that the communites are working together to contain costs while providing services.

Haywood Jablowme

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

We are paying a Chief $120,000 per year to do what exactly? The one big deployment idea he comes up with is shot down by the politicians. Why are we paying this guy? If they aren't going to let him run the department the way he wants then its time to find someone new. Clearly the council has the finger on the pulse of the citizens and our chief does not. Use that money you are paying him and hire 2 new firefighters. Council is clearly in charge. Seto can be the figurehead he is already getting paid to be the safety services manager. We don't need to be wasting $120K more on a chief that has bad ideas.

harry b

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Haywood I love your handle. Signed Harry Ballzonia.

harry b

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

I agree. Fire departments should not be run through the city. It should run through the state or a logistics company. Departments should be placed based on population. Same goes for a school board. Why does every district need a school board. Combine them based on student enrollment.

Haywood Jablowme

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

Maybe you should apply to the AAPD for the manners enforcement officer...with that being point is clear and correct. I don't know this man and don't mean to insult him personally. He has ideas that clearly don't line up with our politicians or the citizens. So, why are we throwing big money at him? We don't take his recommendations. We dont take the ICMA recommendations. So between that $60K study and 3 years under this administration we have wasted about $400,000.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

Judging from your "handle" and idiotic response you should quit wasting time on a computer and take some lessons in manners.

Lou Belcher

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

It is time the city government started using "Management by Objective" as our City Councils practiced during my four terms as mayor. Priorities, set by importance, is the only way to operate anything...whether it is a government, a business, a family. For any city, the government's first priority MUST be the health and safety of it's citizens...just ask them. For example, we set the following top objectives: a police car in front of any address in two minutes...a fire truck in four minutes, waste pick up every week with a sanitary disposal methodology, clean water.....etc. We built the sixth and last fire station to meet the four minute response goal and it is ,in my opinion, very bad policy to dismantle the very infrastructure, that supports, what should be a number one priority. When the money runs out you stop on the last priority and , if you have money left...give it back to those who gave it to you. Look, you can help lead the effort for the arts without spending priority tax dollars...we helped create the Summer festival, the Michigan theater,and the Hands on Museum with very little public money and the citizen volunteers took them over and saw to their funding...(doing a heck of a lot better job than the city council could) and we asked the business community to help fund public art (which many did). Let's get back to the important things that government was formed to do.....those things that individuals can not do alone...Lou Belcher


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

Plan A Change Hieftje's name to Levin. Have Snyder quietly appoint Senator John Levin to replace Senator Carl Levin - maybe a little bit earlier than the rep. planned to retire. If the Senate Armed Services Committee gets suspicious, the name change could always be undone. Ann Arbor Republicans (including the powerful geek number one) to work with State Dems (too busy posturing for their next election) and voters (too confused about which Sen. Levin was actually in office) to ensure a smooth transition. There would now be a sudden vacancy downtown at City Hall. Mayor Belcher could then be invited back by a nervous Council to volunteer his expertise and serve as interim Mayor before the Governor could suggest any Emergency Manager to run Tree Town. At least until the 2014 election, critical commentators on A2com would harbor nothing but praise for their new and improved A2 leadership and have to find something else to complain about. Plan B City Council just to follow Mayor Belcher's sage advice.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Please run again!!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

Cut the DDA + Cut ALL spending on a train station + Cut the % for Art + Cut the other dumb pet projects = AAFD meeting national standard. was that hard? Well, for the band of idiots in city hall, yes, that is hard...


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

Are we going to have to get a second, larger ladder truck to go 14 stories when we allow for that building height or is this 100 footer enough? Otherwise we are seeing costs from unwanted vertical development being passed on to all taxpayers. Not saying we shouldn't care about the safety of those who choose to live above 100 feet, just that there can be consequences and expenses of allowing new housing types to be built in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

This is the same issue in Washington. Why would anybody in their right mind reduce fire fighers/fire stations? This is a public service that we pay for.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

Jan 17, 2013 Why was this still "lingering" at all????

Retiree Newcomer

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

Now is the time to get the University to pay for the services that they require. The calls for aid should be tallied up including ambulance and first responders. The University is a huge corporation which should pay its fair share and not make taxpayers subsidize their obligations morally. Also they should be made to comply with state standards on drills. They are in violation of statutes and they are not above the law


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

Sure wish we had that mil-and-a-half back for "studying" the Boomerang Boondoggle (aka UofM's Connector).

Janet Neary

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

This is only a step in the right direction. The issue of potentially closing two fire stations only came about because the department is not adequately staffed to meet standard expectations. The inadequate staffing still exists. Meanwhile we continue to spend huge sums on consultant studies involving speculation (at best) about the city we might or might not become in the future, ignoring the needs of the city we are right now.

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

"Tom Crawford, the city's CFO, still is projecting $82.3 million in recurring revenues and $80.8 million in recurring expenditures in the general fund next year, leaving a nearly $1.48 million surplus to work with." Hopefully this doesn't include a full time 'arts' employee while we talk about not enough funds for basic City services.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:29 p.m.

I previously reported on the city's tentative capital projects budget, noting city officials are considering more than $538,000 in upgrades to city fire stations, including a $150,000 renovation at Station 2 in the next fiscal year. I since have received this explanation from the city regarding what would be included with that: "The fire station #2 project includes a new roof and other interior renovations that would be required if re-occupancy of the station for firefighting purposes were to occur. Many of these expenses are building and life safety code issues since the station would be housing personnel 24/7. "The stations 3 and 4 project includes $100,000 to renovate/expand these two stations to provide separate female facilities (showers, locker rooms, etc.) for staff. There are a number of smaller items, including new plymo vents (exhaust vents needing upgrade to deal with the new diesel engines) and some exterior work on station 3. "The station 1 and 6 project is just a multitude of smaller items needed to update the stations. This one likely includes new plymo vents as well."

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:30 p.m. That has the addresses of the stations. The one not open is Station 2 at Stadium and Packard


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

Is there a map somewhere showing where all the fire stations are located, which are closed etc?

Kai Petainen

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

"I think it would be beneficial to take it off the table," Hieftje said of Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard's proposal still lingering from more than a year ago to switch from five to three stations." The mayor did the right thing. Thanks Mayor!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

Yes it was SO generous of him to remove from the table that which he has created and pushed for many years. What a beneficent ruler.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

Some additional context for this discussion: Tom Crawford, the city's CFO, still is projecting $82.3 million in recurring revenues and $80.8 million in recurring expenditures in the general fund next year, leaving a nearly $1.48 million surplus to work with. But that's before factoring in $698,000 in recurring funding requests from departments that would drop the general fund surplus down to $779,000 if all of them are approved. Additionally, there are another $431,000 in one-time expenditures and nearly $1.3 million in capital improvement requests in the general fund that council will have to consider. If everything was funded, Crawford said, the city would operate at a $950,000 deficit in the coming year.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Suggestion #1: Take all the money collected from the "public art tax" and put it to use firefighting. Suggestion #2: Refer to #1. Repeat with city pet projects until every essential need this city faces has been satisfied. Then we move on to pet projects.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

Both fascinating and frustrating to watch the politicians at work. Virtual strangling has yet to be invented by gamers so just watching the kabuki show had to suffice (black humour). Both Chiefs Seto and Hubbard seemed cowed into politely laying out their "minimum" but not really required staffing "options". This is where we are. This is what we need. But are doing okay and not making any politically embarrassing demands at this time. And it was clear which speaking Council members were dodging any more budget help for the fire and police. If they were only so miserly when it involved the DDA, ecology center, trains, and art. What struck me as odd was the evident unilateral message from the community in support of adequate services hanging over the heads of all those present. And how deft council was in turning that concise public demand into a budget maybe. is the second ward site mentioned by Peterson. There is a simple questionaire for (all) residents asking them to order representative spending and subject priorities. If you live in Ward 2 (Lumm and Peterson) here is your chance to impact their decision-making at City Hall.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 11:23 a.m.

I am very glad that Mayoy Hieftje reversed his position and acquiesced to the will of the majority on council and the will of the voters and no longer supports closing three fire stations and reopening the closed fire station. A victory for common sense!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 11:03 a.m.

So to meet the national standards for fire safety response times, to ensure our lives and property are *adequately* protected we are inadequately staffed at the current level of 86, and the chief's "magic number" of 88 is way too low and they actually need 109 fire fighters on staff. The cost is just under $2 million a year. If the money isn't there within the current revenue please cut some luxuries and focus on the basics: fire and safety protection, police protections and road repair!

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 10:39 a.m.

FINALLY, thanks to several of the Mayor's puppets being tossed from City Council, we have elected officials who are working on CITY SERVICES and PUBLIC SAFETY instead of million dollar water fountains and bicycle murals painted on trees along the Huron River. Elections matter. Kudos to Kunselman and Lumm for taking the lead. And it's pathetic watching Margie Teall ask why something wasn't done before when she's spent the last ten years on Council: "Council Member Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, said the city has been talking about light rescue vehicles for a long time. "I'm not sure why we haven't moved ahead in that direction, because I thought it was pretty clear a while back that was going to be a great cost saver," she said." Teall: clueless as usual. But at least she showed up for a meeting.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 10:36 a.m.

I'd like to see inspections of student housing, including frats and sororities, at last 1x if not 2x per year. They are a problem waiting to happen with hallways and exits partially blocked, stairways with junk on them...

Jim Osborn

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Worse than that, I've seen burnable items stored around gas water heaters and furnaces. That is a real safety issue. Instead, the fire dept comes to a business and makes them remove everything off of the top shelves in a basement with no furnace or water heater.