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Posted on Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials offer mixed reactions to ICMA study highlighting fire department's challenges

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor officials say they're still digesting a new report that says the city's fire department should make it a top priority to respond more quickly to fires and other emergencies.

The department fails to meet national standards for response times and there's "a significant fire problem within the city," according to a draft report from the International City/County Management Association released by the city this past week.

The 63-page study, which was several months overdue, cost the city about $54,000. So far, reactions to the report are mixed.

"I think there's new information in there that can help the fire department and that's where this will start," said Mayor John Hieftje, offering mostly positive reaction to the report.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, called the report "pedestrian" and said it lacked the level of depth she expected.

"It wasn't very exciting to spend all this money to be told we need to improve reaction time, and beyond that it's things like consider pickup trucks with foam and reorganize your benefits for the firefighters so you're not paying for their meals," she said.

"I was actually expecting more out of it," she said. "I was expecting something that talked about how to reorganize, because that was, I thought, the whole point."


Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard said a revised version of the ICMA report, including some corrections, will be released by the city.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Multiple council members said they haven't yet had a chance to analyze the report, but they're looking forward to hearing what Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard and Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, have to say about it.

Jones could not be reached for comment. Hubbard, who is on vacation, left a voicemail on Friday saying only that there is some inaccurate information in the report.

"They are sending out a final version, which has some corrections in it," he said. "An example would be the response time part. What they wrote was incorrect on this last draft."

Donald James, senior manager of ICMA's Center for Public Safety Management, said on Friday that a mistake was made and the wrong report was released to the media. He said a revised version with corrections was submitted to the city on Thursday afternoon. has requested a copy of the new version.

"The things that were most controversial in the report were changed based upon the comments made on behalf of the fire department and the city," James said, adding that included clarifications around certain statements and response times.

James said there are differences between how the city looks at response times and how the National Fire Protection Association looks at them. discovered earlier this year that the city calculates response times differently than NFPA.

Briere said she's not convinced the city even keeps accurate enough data to calculate response times appropriately, and she hopes that can change.

The draft report from ICMA suggested the fire department isn't meeting NFPA-recommended response time standards, as well as standards for "turnout time" — the time it takes firefighters to jump up and get ready. The report recommends the city consider upgrading station notification systems and monitor crew turnout performance.

According to ICMA, the method of communication between the dispatch center and the fire station might be causing a delay in getting units out of the station faster.


Matt Schroeder

Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters union, said he's skeptical of some of the report's findings. He noted that ICMA, which was hired this spring, studied the department's staffing levels from two years ago, when it had 94 full-time employees.

The department has gone through two rounds of cuts since then, dropping staffing levels down to 82 full-time employees. That's the level budgeted this year, and Schroeder said the actual number is even lower since a handful of people left the department in recent months.

The ICMA report doesn't mention that on most days at least one of two active fire trucks at Ann Arbor's downtown fire station is listed as "out of service" due to low staffing levels.

In evaluating runs by different companies in the fire department, the report also fails to take into account the department's busiest company, Schroeder said.

"We have some big concerns about that study," he said.

James declined to comment on concerns about the study, saying only that ICMA completed the scope of work that the city requested.

Schroeder said the union is interested in working with the city on improving fire services, but that discussion needs to be based on accurate information.

"We're concerned about the safety of the citizens," Schroeder said. "The city needs to decide what level of protection they want and we need to make sure our firefighters are safe in the way they do their job. That's the interest that we have."

The union is still of the opinion that the city has cut too deep into fire department staffing levels in recent years. The current plan is to trim another five positions in the spring.

The ICMA report suggests ways the department might be able to further reduce staffing levels and be more efficient. It recommends new deployment methods and technologies, including using "quick response vehicles" equipped with a new foam technology — and manned by two firefighters instead of three — when responding to some calls.

ICMA recommends the city consider that to reduce staffing by one firefighter at Station 3, 2130 Jackson Ave., and also at Station 4, 2415 Huron Parkway.

But the report also says the department should increase public education about fire prevention, including about smoke detectors, and the city should consider hiring civilian employees for fire inspector and public education specialist positions.

Hieftje said he thinks that's a good idea.


The ICMA report doesn't mention that on most days at least one of two active fire trucks at Ann Arbor's downtown fire station is listed as "out of service" due to low staffing levels.

Ryan J. Stanton |

ICMA also recommends the city make serious efforts to seek concessions from the firefighters union, including on health care, food allowances and tuition reimbursement. According to the report, the city has been spending about $90,000 a year on firefighter food allowances.

The city could save hundreds of thousands of dollars if the contract changes recommended by ICMA were made. City officials say they've been trying unsuccessfully for years to get those concessions, and negotiations between the city and the union are at a standstill now.

"We're still in the mediation process and arbitration is looming," Schroeder said. "We're willing to talk to the city but the city has chosen not to talk to us."

Hieftje didn't disagree with the report's finding that there's a significant residential fire problem in Ann Arbor. City officials have attributed some of the problems to the city's aging housing stock, including rental houses occupied by University of Michigan students.

"I think it's been pretty well known for years," Hieftje said. "Particularly with the student population, fire inspectors will go into a property and there's 12 plugs in an outlet, and there's smoke detectors where the batteries have been taken out of them."

The fire department responded to 278 fires last year, 116 of which were reported as structure fires. Of those, 101 happened inside homes or apartments.

Those fires killed two people and caused an estimated $1.3 million in property damages last year, records show. Most of the damages — $1.24 million worth — happened to homes and apartments, while businesses and other buildings were less affected.

"The fire problem would need an education program," Hieftje said. "I think the city probably could be doing a better job of education, but to do that we would probably have to couple with the university because they have greater access to students."

Hieftje said he thinks the ICMA report contains "a lot of good information," and he's interested in looking at the recommendations to improve operations.

"I also saw that we need to take a look at some delays that may be occurring in dispatch, and there may be some delays in getting firefighters out of the station and on the road," he said. "That's not a staffing issue. That's an issue of speeding up the process."

Hieftje said he's discouraged the report arrived several months late, but he's glad city officials have it now as they look to next year's budget. He said the city has a plan to avoid further cuts in the police department, but there's still work to do on the fire side.

"One of the key elements on the police side was a new contract," he said. "And I think that will be a key element on the fire side in terms of how many positions we can save."

Added Hieftje: "And I would like to save all of them."

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.



Wed, Dec 28, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

It just never ends. Unions vs. Management. The unions will never give up while the city struggles to balance the budget. Unions don't recognize budgets and always see a conspiracy. Why would elected leaders put their citizens in danger and risk the wrath of the influence wielding unions if they didn't have to?

glenn thompson

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

The table on page 28 of the report shows the Fire Department budget for both sterling Heights and Warren to be exactly the same, $18,301,707. This is extremely unlikely. This budget number was used in calculating the cost per capita for both cities so it is probable that at least one of those entries is incorrect.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

This city council with its emasculated task forces, expensive independent studies that ignore the experts conclusions and titanic level of hubris is nothing less than a joke. In the "most educated city in America" Is this the best we have to choose from? These people compensate their lack of experience with a level arrogance that is a slap in the face of every voter in this city. To think Joan Lowenstein actually had the audacity to question those that question her precious democratic super-majority. It all defies gravity.

Chase Ingersoll

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

Go ahead and spend millions on firetrucks, and ignore the information in regarding all of the most recent fatal fires - THAT SMOKE DETECTORS WERE EITHER NOT PRESENT OR NOT WORKING. But if we were to look at that reality, then all of you could no longer play this political game over increasing the fire budget.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

According to the article the report doesn't meet the expectations of some in city government. What that means to me is that the scope of work the city used to quote the study and select a contractor was inadequate -- garbage in garbage out as usual. Who was responsible for the scoping document and who in city government reviewed and agreed to it?


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Our team - the mayor and city council members, as elected by the majority of Ann Arbor voters, are clueless when it comes to leading an efficient operation. They have shown this time and time again. I am in the minority when I complain about issues like this. Makes me feel good that I can complain about critical issues. But, the majority of Ann Arbor voters do not care and have supported this team. I guess I need to stop complaining.

Thomas Rollins

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 1:58 a.m.

The City and Union should have taken me up on my offer of a free review of their services. $54,000 was a gross overpayment for the service they received from ICMA. Perhaps the solutions from ICMA were another $50,000. Everyone is hung up on response times but that is just part of the issue. Staffing really doesn't effect response time unless you are out on other calls; however getting to the scene with inadequate manpower does nothing either. ICMA ideas are ok, but they fit the mold for a paid on call department, not a full-time fire department who is tasked with protecting the health and safety of the residents and visitors of the city. I dont think that the residents of Ann Arbor want to see firefighters riding around in fancy brush trucks with compressed air systems. There are plenty of solutions to either provide revenue through cost recovery, profit sharing and marketing which could bring revenue into the fire budget. There are also plenty of solutions to reduce the budget through revisions to which types of services are provided, attrition and reduced pension plans. Both sides, labor and management just have to want to fix things. It's the residents and firefighters with low seniority who will suffer. I wonder how this report will affect the citys ISO rating which detirmines the rate of homeowners insurance. The offer to help is still on the table.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 12:12 a.m.

If the study says they should keep wasting money, they use it as evidence. If it shows they are doing something wrong, they refute or ignore it. The Fuller Transit Station was defined as a "Proof Project" (I think that was the term); basically, a study showed that there was no reason to expect demand or ridership to justify such an expenditure, so they decided to do it anyway to prove the study wrong. It's actually refreshing to see a useless study cost only 54 K. Didn't the one to see if we should get trolley cars (2007 or 2008, I think) cost like 80 or 200K or something like that? That was an even less necessary study than this one. I keep visiting people in towns that have less property tax and nicer roads and better plowing. It's starting to get really depressing.

A A Resident

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 10:50 p.m.

IF the study was indeed flawed, inadequate or late, let's start by demanding a refund!

Patricia Lesko

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

It was no "mistake" that the draft was released to the public. It was the result of immense pressure exerted on City Administrator Steve Powers, as well as extensive help from Jane Lumm. FOIAed the draft report on November 20th; FOIAed the report on November 27th, and did so, as well. was tipped that the report had been delivered and then "sent back for clarification" by city officials. That raised red flags, and we filed the FOIA. City officials responded that no one had the report. We suggested Chief Jones be asked for his copy, and our request for the document (which was suddenly "found") was denied based on the fact that secrecy overrode the public's right to know. We filed an appeal of that denial with Steve Powers, and that appeal was denied without the required explanation of why secrecy overrode the public's right to know. was preparing to go to Court to force Ann Arbor officials to explain their FOIA denial when the report was suddenly released without explanation. It is important that the draft and final versions be compared, particularly given the fact that current staffing levels were not used by the consultant—an error that should negate most of the findings related to staffing. Interestingly, that "draft" version was sent out with a press release claiming it was the "final" version. Now we are told it was not the final version. That should results in more questions concerning the validity and accuracy of the report. The only reason these comparisons will be able to be made is because there was intense behind-the-scenes pressure to force city officials into releasing the draft report for which taxpayers paid $54,000.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 9:30 p.m.

And this explains why we need to vote out the City Council members as soon as possible, and why it was such a brilliant joyous day when Jane Lumm was returned to the Council. We had high hopes for Mr. Anglin, but he has had several unfortunate votes in line with the Mayor's cabal since his return that we deplore. And the invisible 4th Ward representation is a sad, sad state of affairs. It should be mandated that Members who fail to appear for a certain number of meetings should be required to resign and a special election held in their ward so that residents are not without representation as we have been for so long especially when phone calls are not even returned from the invisible "lady".


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

Thank you to all for exposing the corrupt and morally vacuous way our public officials do our business.

Ellis Sams

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

Will this affect insurance rates? If it does, will council and the mayor focus on real city services or continue with public art and pie-in-the sky public transportation plans?


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

So for $54,000 the city got a report that used inaccurate information. The City Council is not happy with the report. The Fire Union is not happy with the report. Sounds like a win-win. Imagine what would have happened if the Fire Union was honest with itself and City Council or a commitee made up of City Council Members AND the Council/commitee was honest with itself and the Fire Union; and they did their own fact finding and problem solving. First of all $54,000 would have been saved. Secondly, maybe, just maybe, they would have come up with some solutions that would be beneficial to the tax payers of the city. However the problem with internal fact finding is that it is based on HONESTY. I believe that both City Council and the Fire Union have a problem with the word/term HONESTY.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

Based on what? Your singular opinion? Certainly not based on everything the city has said that the FD has discredited. A little research into this and you'll see where the lies are coming from.

hut hut

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 4:07 p.m.

It seems that we confuse the people we elect, who are cannot be "professionals" (whatever that means) at everything necessary to conduct municipal business, but are supposed to represent our interests by oversight and determining policy. The City does hire professionals, as in engineers, technicians, safety services, accountants, etc. It's that the administration and some elected officials don't trust them, so the private business oriented administrators turn to high priced consultants when they don't get the answers they like or want. The problem, as I see it, is that we hire (and pay) for professional city staff, but they are not trusted or fully empowered by administration or elected officials to solve problems and carry out policy. They're smart and capable, but we second guess them, denigrate them, and they get "gun shy" and are cowed into not making good decisions because they get slapped down (by administrators and the public) when they do. The mantra is that only business professionals can solve our problems, not intelligent public service workers. Global economic meltdown caused by the private sector, anyone? Thus we, the City, hire business consultants because we don't trust the people we hire to do the real work, only to carry out the findings of consultants. We might as well hire interns and temps just to carry out the consultant reports, who, we see, are often wrong and lacking in their findings. Roger Fraser loved hiring consultants. You know, the ones we love to complain about, the private sector ones, the ones we pay lots of money and get no real answers or solutions. Does anyone remember the Denison study? Fraser didn't like the results so he put it in the trash.

hut hut

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

@Basic Bob, I don't disagree with you at all. Roger Fraser was consultant and report crazy. He kept looking for reports from consultants that agreed with his viewpoint and advance his agenda ( City Hall reorg, cost $millions, Conference Ctr and the new Justice Ctr come to mind). The ones he didn't like went into the trash can (Denison). Managers did not make a move without his approval. Council did very little in seeking consultants reports. Instead of relying on professional internal staff, the recommendations for outside consultants came from within the bureaucracy as an answer to inquiries from council. Fraser gave the marching orders in City HAll, not Council or Mayor. But who and what is the Mayors and Council's "staff"? City Hall staff work for the administrator, not Council or Mayor. It's the kind of government Ann Arbor has. Essentially a "weak" Mayor and a strong Administrator. Council does no hiring on their own, mostly rubber stamping whoever the Administrator proposes to hire. As we've seen, Council is mostly a lap dog for the Mayor's agenda. For the most part Council has a hands off attitude towards staff because they don't want to be accused of micromanaging or be accused when a mistake is made.

Basic Bob

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

@hut hut, We don't need council members who are engineers, financial managers, and all that. But they do need to listen to those people, rather than just the art appreciation crowd and a few influential constituents. They got a legitimate study with sensible results. I expect mayor and council to bury it, because it requires action from their staff. Inaction is so much easier.

hut hut

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

If we wanted elected officials with advanced degrees in engineering, business and resource management, finance and investing and public safety we'd have to pay them a whole lot more money than the measly amount they get now. So we pay professional administrators to do those things. Some people just don't have a clue on how government works and how much and what it takes to get things done.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

You have a much lower expectation than I do for our officials then. So now we have elected officials who hire administrators to hire professional consultants to tell them what they should do? Isn't this a bit crazy? Again, this isn't complicated stuff here. Simple math really. BTW, I'tm sure they hired the cheap consultant too. No sense in wasting money to get a good one who won't tell them what they want to hear. They can't even get their mismanagement right.

hut hut

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

Council doesn't manage resources, that's the job of the people they hire to manage their policies and the city's resource like the administrator and his executive staff. Assembling a budget that does what's necessary and sometimes what's not is the job of the administrator, Tom Crawford and the department heads. The only thing council is to blame for beside being tone deaf and out of touch, imo, insufficient, lassez faire, oversight of the people that they hire, like the city administrator, city attorney and top managers.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 6:04 p.m.

They're not building a building. They're managing resources. Isn't that what we elect them to do? We're not asking them to put out the fires. We're asking them to allocate enough resources to make sure the fires get put out. THAT isn't rocket surgery, though apparently beyond them.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

Oh well . . . We still have that really nice fountain to cheer us up when it operates for four months a year . . .


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

Did it ever operate beyond the "grand opening" night? I didn't that it worked subsequent to that night ?


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

Interesting: 1) The response time of the report is slow. The response time of the fire department is slow. 2) The consultant report is now deemed expensive, especially since it does not corroborate the city's long-standing position that we have a superadequate fire department. 3) The report results are already obsolete, as they are founded on a staffing model that is smaller than reported upon, with further reduction planned in the future. 4) Councilperson Briere called the report "pedestrian" and said that it lacked level of expected depth. However, ". . . she's not convinced the city even keeps accurate enough data to calculate response times appropriately." Who actually lacks the level of expected depth? 5) "Hieftje didn't disagree with the report's finding that there's a significant residential fire problem in Ann Arbor. City officials have attributed some of the problems to the city's aging housing stock, including rental houses occupied by University of Michigan students." OK, so let's change all of those houses, now that we are dismantling the fire department. 6) Conclusion: It appears that Hieftje and council are doing a great job at driving our public safety departments into chaos and dysfunction. Unbelievable : <

David Cahill

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 3 p.m.

It's gross and disgusting that the supposedly final report was defective. I look forward to's follow-up story about the Thursday afternoon version.

hut hut

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

No Ms Briere, and I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly, the purpose was to spend money on consultants because the intelligence and work ethic of city staff was never highly regarded by Roger Fraser. Oh, and Mike, the money spent on PRIVATE consultants is really solving the problems isn't it? I mean we hire them and they tell us what we already know? Yeah, Herman Cain, the private sector businessman who insisted he had all the answers and that as a BUSINESS MAN he and he only know what ails us and how to fix it. What a joke. Mitt Romney cut from the same cloth. Business knows all, Solves all. Don't look behind the curtain, because they're no different that anyone else, all talk and simplistic solutions to complex problems.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

We continue to elect politicians and reject business people to run our cities and our country. None of them know anything except how to talk. The media packages them as rock stars while the establishment grinds the non-conforming candidates into the dirt and destroys them. We the peope need to wake up! You can't continue to do the same things over and over again and expect different results. Merry Christmas!

Robert Granville

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

I think its funny that the city would request and pay for an ICMA study and then reject its results. You asked their opinion... they gave it. Just because it makes you look bad doesn't mean you get to pretend all is well. Somebody commissioned the study.... for a reason.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

They are rejecting that 1+1=2. At least we agree on that.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

I certainly hope the report takes into account how public art benefits the safety of Ann Arbor citizens! I'm pleased to see a professional report prepared, unfortunately I doubt the city council will make any positive changes toward improving safety as a result.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

This report should have been completed on the present day staffing--much lower than figures that they used. Response time is critical for any fire or emergency, and I truly believe that all firefighters and police officers make this one of their highest priority. You can't continue to reduce staffing without suffering the consequences. I continue to commend all AAFD and AAPD and wish they a safe and joyous holiday.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

Once again we have the "professionals" we elect to office, hiring professionals to tell them how to do the job we elected them to do. $54000? Can't we start electing people who know stuff? Why pay for a study that tells you the you don't have enough resources to do the job you are supposed to after you have cut jobs without reducing the work? Isn't that obvious? Same work, less people means either add more people or subtract work. Simple. Instead the city took the salary of 1 firefighter to pay for a study that told them that 1+1=2. Brilliant! Briere and the rest of them thought they were going to pay $54000 to find a way to squeeze blood from a stone. Surprise

hut hut

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 11:50 p.m.

"Once again". Care to tell us the other times?

Robert Granville

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Without such studies, we as a society would know nothing about anything. I bet you'd like that...


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 1:10 p.m.

It is beyond comprehension that current staffing levels were not used. I would advise homeowners to call their insurance companies and ask what rating was used for their homeowner's insurance. Then ask how much you'd save IF the department was rated higher.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

"the city calculates response times differently than NFPA." Perhaps an intrepid young reporter could follow up on this and report the reasons that the city calculates response time differently than the National Fire Protection Association's recommended method. Do we do it differently because we are so much smarter than the NFPA? Do we do it differently because "we have always done it this way?"

hut hut

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

NFPA is essentially a publishing house. They collect information based on studies and research of fires (among other things) and establish &quot;standards&quot; from their studies.They publish the results in their name. If you're a member, which doesn't come cheap, and subscribe to their standards, you get their accreditation and can put their seal of approval on whatever it is that you do. It costs money to belong to NFPA and it costs more to adhere to their standards. NFPA standards are not law. In this day and age, with folks who deride the cost of government and want less regulation, NFPA is at the top of the heap of private regulating agencies. I won't say it's a scam, it's not, but they're in it for the money. NFPA <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>