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Posted on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Fire department merger? City of Ann Arbor in talks with Ann Arbor Township

By Ryan J. Stanton

Update at 9:16 a.m.: Download the proposal

The city of Ann Arbor is in talks with neighboring Ann Arbor Township regarding a potential merger of their two municipal fire departments.

Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard informed the city's firefighters this week, saying the city has given the township a written proposal and township officials are in the process of reviewing the offer. If and when they make a decision, Hubbard wrote in an email, firefighters will be informed.

Ann Arbor Township Fire Chief Rick Ericson confirmed the township has received the city's proposal and is considering it.


The Ann Arbor Fire Department could absorb Ann Arbor Township's fire department if merger talks progress in that direction.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The township is looking at various options to see what beneficial options we have for our community," he said. "We are doing more than just considering the city's proposal."

Ericson said the city's written proposal contained some inaccuracies. He said it's supposed to be resubmitted once corrected.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said it's premature to talk about any details surrounding the merger but he said there is a conversation that's happening.

"I know they have very sophisticated apparatus up there," he said of the township. "But again, there's a lot to be talked about — particularly labor issues."

The Ann Arbor Fire Department has 86 full-time employees and a budget that totals about $14 million, which is significantly larger than the township's department.

The township's fire department has a $1.2 million operating budget. Its staff includes the fire chief and six other full-time employees, plus 10 paid on-call firefighters who come from home when called.

Ericson said the paid on-call firefighters have the same training certifications as the full-time firefighters, but it's sometimes a challenge getting them to the scene.

"They're on call and they have full-time careers so they're not always available, which is why the township is exploring various options," he said.

"Nowadays, it's very, very hard to maintain on-call firefighters because it is very time consuming," Ericson added. "Besides runs, it's learning the equipment and maintaining your training, and you have to be at the fire station an awful lot to maintain those."

Ericson said the township has two fire stations and eight vehicles, including two traditional fire engines, a ladder truck, a tanker, three rescues and a brush truck.

Ann Arbor has five stations and has been considering a proposal to go down to three, but that hasn't been implemented since Hubbard floated the idea in March.

If a merger between the city and township happens, Ericson said, there would be labor issues to work out and it's his goal not to have any of the township's full-time employees lose jobs.

"Obviously we don't want to put anybody out on the streets," he said.

As for Ericson, he's retiring in June after 18 years on the job, so he said he's out of the picture. He's been in the fire service the past 37 years.

"I'm looking forward to it in some respects and I'm going to miss it," he said of retiring, adding he might be interested in hanging around as a consultant.

Asked how the merger talks started, Hieftje said it goes back to seven or eight years ago when he asked the city and surrounding townships to work together.

"These conversations have been percolating ever since then," he said. "We have much better collaboration with Ypsilanti Township and with Ypsilanti and Pittsfield than we used to, and so it's been improving all the time and we hope to be able to continue the conversation with all of them."

Hieftje said it's hard to say how it will work out, but one of the topics of conversation is an expansion of the Ann Arbor Fire Department's footprint to absorb the township's department.

"Fire departments working together is the wave of the future," Hieftje said. "It has been actually the wave of the present for a while. People around the country are looking at that mainly because there are so fewer fires than there used to be a few decades ago."

A good example of cooperation between jurisdictions, Hieftje said, is a fire that broke out in October at a condominium complex off Huron Parkway. Firefighters came from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township and had it extinguished in about a half hour.

"There were 30 firefighters there from four different departments, and that's the kind of collaboration that can save taxpayers money, but also provide even better fire services," Hieftje said.

Since its inception in the 1940s, Ericson said Ann Arbor Township has had a combination fire department using a mix of full-time employees and volunteers (now paid on-call). He said it's been difficult to keep an adequate supply of on-call firefighters trained to do the job, and many of the good ones end up leaving for full-time jobs at other departments.

"People just don't have the community commitment they used to have," he said. "People these days just don't really want to do things for free anymore. And it used to be a more relaxed environment, whereas the requirements today for on-call firefighters are much stricter than they used to be."

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.


Cendra Lynn

Sun, Dec 9, 2012 : 5:35 a.m.

Thanks to John Hieftje and his Ilk we lost the best Police Chief ever, Dan Oates. Thanks to them we have had to see police and firefighters put themselves at greater risk than is ethical to ask. Thanks to them not only have we had loss of life, we've had greater loss of property. There are not enough people and equipment to put fires out while they are still small enough for the structure to be saved. The size of a fire doubles every minute. The math is the same as the apocryphal horseshoe nails - 2,4,8,16,32,64,128,256 - put this into cubic feet of fire in your house. Why John Hieftje is opposed to public safety is beyond me. Without that, nothing else in our city matters.

Blue Eyes

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

It's certainly obvious the proposal came from the City. Sounds like the Township stations would be closed and Township residents would have to wait longer for arrivals from City stations. Ever try to get through the US 23/Plymouth Rd interchange at rush hour? Use the Township stations to serve the Township residents and let the City go fly their kites somewhere else. This is a BAD idea for the Township!!

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 6:58 a.m.

How does this benefit me as a city tax payer???

Real Life

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 4:20 a.m.

I'm surprised to learn they aren't merged already. While the township has some contiguous territory, much of the population is in "islands" within the Ann Arbor city limits. Must Township fire trucks have to travel through the city to reach these islands in an emergency? While the township has avoided the silly money wasting policies of the city, and has kept taxes low, what is the current policy regarding public safety for these entities? (Not that they are separate, but what if lives are in danger in property bounded by the city, e.g.?)

Dan Cain

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

First I would like to commend the elected officials in both of these communities for proposing and considering such an idea. Regionalization of fire services is occurring all around the country and the state of Michigan. Local examples include Westland and Wayne, Garden City and Dearborn Heights, as well as Delta Township, East Lansing, and Lansing just to name a few. As Director of the Washtenaw County Technical rescue Team and former member of the Washtenaw County Hazardous Materials Team I can speak first hand of the dollar savings and operational efficiencies that regionalization offers. First and foremost regionalization can offer an excellent level of service to the citizens. It can also do so while reducing administrative expenses. Fire prevention and education efforts can also be expanded by sharing resources, as many departments don't have enough staff to dedicate to these divisions. The ability to gain both Federal and State grants can be another benefit that comes from these types of agreements. Presently there are many Fire Chiefs that are close to their retirement or that are at the tail end of their careers. That makes this an even better time to look closely at the potential regionalization opportunities in Washtenaw County. There are several different models for fire protection, and regionalization is certainly one that can offer an excellent level of service for the people in our communities. I encourage the governmental leaders to work with their employees to explore the potential gains in both service and savings that can be realized through a regionalized fire service. If done properly, it can be a win-win-win situation for all parties; governments, employees, and the citizens.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

Ann Arbor Township's millage rate is significantly lower than in the city. I'm sure hoping that the millage rate in the township would increase if the city's services are shared.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

I'm surprised that any township would want to merge with Ann Arbor on anything related to public safety since that category seems to be put aside for other items such as public art in Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

The city's art funds are included as a percentage of capital project budgets and over the past five years those allocations have come from sources including the streets, parks and solid waste millages, as well as water and sewer utility funds, but after an initial $50,000 from the general fund, no more money is coming from the general fund that pays for police and fire protection.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I added a link at the top of the story to download a copy of the city's draft conceptual proposal, which I just received. City Administrator Steve Powers says this is one way the township and city might be able to work together. Additional comment from Powers: "Ann Arbor Township is exploring options for providing fire protection. Township and City staff have discussed at a very conceptual level how the township and City might be able to work together for mutual benefit. The township is also considering working with other townships or continuing its own department. Intergovernmental cooperation discussions have been on and off for the past ten years."


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

good news township considering other options. i say stay away from aa. look close to the ones surrounding the twp. you have sever options consider them or leave it alone. i do not trust aa when it come to fire and police.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

i say leave it alone. ann arbor has a history of laying off. ann arbor twp has been working fine. stay away from the twp. i agree with motorcycleminer. they will help out when called. if ann arbor has two trucks they can use them until help comes. how ofter have they need help??? in its 40 years????

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

As for Ericson, he's retiring...... he might be interested in hanging around as a consultant. Ericson said...."People just don't have the community commitment they used to have....People these days just don't really want to do things for free anymore." Can I assume Mr. Ericson would volunteer his consulting?


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

I'm sure it'd face opposition, but I'd like to see them explore a county-wide fire & police/sheriff departments, and do away with all of the city/township departments. Spreading one admin cost across the entire county, and strategically placing the locations just seems to make sense. It's done in many other states, and seems to work well.

Joseph Welch's Ghost

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

How about we all take a deep breath and wait for the details on this one.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

@Joseph.... I agree. Nice to know there's at least one other person willing to wait for more information before jumping to conclusions. I sometimes wonder if articles aren't written with the intention of getting people riled up?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

As long as the number of firefighters doesn't shrink between the two departments, only the number of nonfirefighting people it would save some money without cutting the really important people.....the guys and gals who respond to the emergency suited up for action.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

I agree with motorcycleminer 100%.

dading dont delete me bro

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:41 a.m.

ann arbor has a township?

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.

John Hieftje history with Ann Arbor firefighters and police has been nothing short of insulting, condescending and disrespectful. That fact should be kept in mind when reading anything he has to say about the potential merging of services with Ann Arbor Township. "Asked how the merger talks started, Hieftje said it goes back to seven or eight years ago when he asked the city and surrounding townships to work together." Now that's what I call 'leadership'. Lol.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

"EricsonĀ said the city's written proposal contained some inaccuracies. He said it's supposed to be resubmitted once corrected." Would be interesting to see what inaccuracies and why they occurred.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

Dumb as hell..all fire depts will come to the mutual aid of each other as required as it is...this is just more Ozoanian mumbo jumbo ..lets extend the already overworked, undermanned and underfunded Ann Arbor dept...Duh....sounds to me like chief hubbard has his priorities confused...

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

since they already come to mutual aid as needed I'm not sure it would result in more work, unless fire fighters are laid off in the merger.