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Posted on Sun, May 1, 2011 : 9:42 a.m.

Cuts to Ann Arbor Fire Department put city at risk

By Guest Column


Dominick Lanza

Ann Arbor is faced with tough decisions relating to fire protection and how it is provided.

The ICMA (International City/County Management Association) study is somewhat suspect to me as they usually come out recommending what the city manager/mayor wants. In Ann Arbor’s case, the Fire Department has suffered for many years and been reduced to an all-time low in staffing and morale.

The City Charter does not include a “Department of Safety Services,” it outlines that there will be a police chief and a fire chief both reporting to the mayor/manager. By having the fire chief report to the police chief acts to diminishes his/her ability to openly communicate with the City Council.

I can only speak on my tenure with Ann Arbor, but my experience was that questions from the mayor, while I was at the podium, were always phrased to be answered with a “yes” or “no,” with no explanation. As an employee, one cannot get up and elaborate or explain in depth unless asked to do so.

Ann Arbor firefighters have been demoralized by the administration to the point where they are always on the defensive waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The city was formed in 1824 and full-time, paid fire protection came about in 1889 and grew as the city did. Great risks of property damage and loss of life caused the organization of a professional fire department. It appears the city is headed for pre 1889 safety standards of having inadequate fire protection.

Eight years ago, (City Administrator Roger) Fraser was greeted with great disrespect by firefighters employed at that time those people have since retired but that memory has not left many minds.

Dollars are few and times are tough but is everyone willing to sacrifice their safety?

Mr. Fraser was quoted as saying the fire department has very few fires, during my one-year tenure there were five fire related deaths, an arsonist running rampant and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fire loss. When not responding to fires, yes, they respond to your calls for medical help, flooding, fire alarms, wires down, auto accidents, water/ice rescues public education details, hours upon hours of training and whenever there is a question on who can handle a problem the fire department is sent.

Here is a list of similar cities and the number of fire personnel they employ:

Charleston, S.C.                19 fire stations
Population:                         120,000
Firefighters:                         305

Decatur, Ill. 7 fire stations Population: 109,000 Firefighters: 118

Peoria, Ill. 12 fire stations Population: 113,000 Firefighters: 196

Lansing, Mich. 8 fire stations Population: 114,000 Firefighters: 200

Topeka, Kan. 12 Fire Stations Population: 122,000 Firefighters: 250

Ann Arbor, MI 5 fire stations Population 110,000 Firefighters: 86

How many of these cities have a major university, which swells the population with students and employees to the tune of 25,000-30,000? U-M has its own police department but it has no fire department and all fire service it receives from the city is free at taxpayers’ expense.

Since my departure, the idea being kicked around is to have the police chief oversee both departments. Both emergency services police and fire are unique and require experience, knowledge and expertise to deliver.

I know and respect Chief Barnett Jones having worked for him for a year. He is dedicated, educated, sincere, fair, objective and caring, but what he is not is a firefighter. When you graduate from the fire or police academy you receive a certificate that states you have met the minimum requirements for the job. One must then go out to be mentored and learn from others to be a firefighter or police officer. That knowledge does not come through osmosis or textbooks - it comes from doing. To say the assistant fire chiefs can run the fire department is to say we don’t need a police chief; we can have the deputy chiefs run the police department and report to the mayor.

I think a good look at what is going on in Ann Arbor needs to be done objectively and with community involvement. Cuts in fire and police services have led to serious issues. In fire services, it has led to more fire loss and possibly loss of life. In police services, there have been armed daylight robberies of banks, jewelry stores, credit union, etc. Safety services is not the place to cut any further and in the case of fire staffing needs to be increased by at least 20 firefighters to provide adequate protection. Why didn’t I say these things when I worked in the city? I wasn’t asked or given the opportunity by the council or the media. However, now I can.

An A2politico article recently accused me of lying, which is not true. I answered the questions as they were asked. They were posed with yes or no answers and I was never asked for an opinion or elaboration.

Ann Arbor firefighters are dedicated and need stability and support. Give them what they need.

Dominick Lanza recently retired as chief of the Ann Arbor Fire Department.


Rudy Caparros

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

TOXIC TRAIN SAFETY - A First Responders Petition caused The Chlorine Institute to conduct a five-month study comparing the safety of secondary containment to the chlorine "C"-Kit for chlorine tank cars. The study proved secondary containment to be, by far, the safest technology for containing and preventing releases of chlorine gas. To see secondary containment - search "CHLORTANKER."

Joslyn at the U

Sun, May 8, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

Im sure the mayor and city council think new buildings are more important than public safety. Didnt Hetfje say he was comfortable with the cuts to the Fire department? Sure did.........hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Re evaluate your goverment people. The trash needs to be properly disposed of.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

I know most bloggers think that the only think PD and FD care about is saving our jobs and that we think we're over inflating stories about city hall and council. But here's food for thought. Fraser stated the city needs to close a 2.4 Million budget gap. Keep in mind that is a 'projected' gap, not actual. Now, in Sue McCormicks budget presentation, she stated she could cut 2 Million from the general fund with hardly any layoffs (they would come from vacant positions). Here's where it gets interesting. The city wants to cut 25 from Police and 12 from Fire. 37 positions. Roger Fraser and Heiftje have stated many times that the city cost for a cop and fireman is $100,000 including salary and benefits. Keep in mind, it's the bottom people that get laid off, not the top brass. Here we go... we need to cut 2.4 Mill. Sue stated she can cut 2 Mill. Leaving 400K. Now 37 * 100,000 = 3.7 Million. Anyone else raising an eyebrow here?


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

Mr. Lanza I am curious what your thoughts might be about the little known fact that the new building code calls for single family residences to now be built with sprinklers, just like we see in businesses. I would guess that this must add at least $10,000 to the cost of a medium sized house. On the flip side one has to think that it would also make a fireman's job easier. If not why are we doing it? It is also little known that about half of the states have amended their laws to not enforce this section of the code; but that leaves half of the states still with the requirement to have sprinklers. The U.S is definitely conservative when it comes to safety, and in general that is good, but when does a community have the conversation about the cost of that safety and whether we can be safe on a budget. When does the conversation include all of the safety measures? Sure fires are down; they are down because we build better; and better costs money. For decades we have been requiring more and more sprinklers and clearly jumping to adding it to single family houses is a major change. As the building code has been requiring more spending to squelch fires has the fire departments, in general, been able to lower their related costs?

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

"There is one national code that each state can, and many times does, modify for their own situation. Normally codes are made more restrictive as they get more 'local'." actually there are several international codes that cover different aspects, electric, plumbing, HVAC , residential construction, commercial construction etc etc. Most states adapt some version of the assorted ICC codes. But they may not adapt them all and one State may work under a 2003 version while another state may operate under a 2006 etc etc. Some states may allow local municipalities to tighten standards, some states don't. Some states have NO state standards and allow local municipalities to adapt their own. So I stand by my statement that there is no such thing as "THE code".


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

BornNRaised wrote, "Ann Arbor is and old city. That's like saying Detroit now has to put sprinklers in new homes. Ok... it'll take decades for that to make a difference." Those decades started decades ago. Most old buildings in downtown AA have sprinkler systems; retrofitted into them because the codes have been slowly upping the requirements. More and more uses require sprinklers and smaller and smaller uses. The trend started years ago. When buildings are renovated they have to be 'brought up to code". I don't believe that AA is any less safe than Troy. With my post I am not arguing for, or against, Mr. Lanza's statement. I am curious about whether the money we spend building safer buildings is offset by a savings in human resources. @Mr. Lounsbury There is one national code that each state can, and many times does, modify for their own situation. Normally codes are made more restrictive as they get more 'local'.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:47 p.m.

I do not believe a "the building code" exists. Every state establishes their own code system. I believe there are more or less 50 codes. It depends on what state you are in.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 11:24 a.m.

"Eight years ago, (City Administrator Roger) Fraser was greeted with great disrespect by firefighters employed at that time...." Can anybody give me an accurate clarification of the above statement?

Steve Sommers

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:47 a.m.

I am a Pittsfield resident so maybe I don't have a right to speak on this but I am going to anyways. I do plan to vote yes for our millage. You all want the same level of service. I don't hear anyone say "close all but 1 fire station." So you want the same level of service but you don't want to pay for it. You want the fire fighters to pay for your service. You want the 86 fire fighters to subsidize your fire service by taking pay cuts and an increase in health care premiums. Rather then the 110,000 residents pay for it. 86 should bear the cost rather then 110,000. Doesn't seem quite right to me.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 10:24 p.m.

(sigh... !) Not only is Hieftjeism and the Hieftjeites hazardous your pocketbook, and basics, like our abominable roads destroying your costly car - they are clearly hazardous to your physical health and safety, as well. If allowed to spread unchecked, this social plague will ultimately result in HIGHER crime rates, and more fatalities/injuries from fire-related incidents. When will the citizens of Ann Arbor wake-up, and cast these devils out of city hall?! Surely, we deserve better than this!


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 9:52 p.m.

I dont know so much about the fire dept stuff. Does anyone know if those low per capita firefighter numbers are truly apples to apples? Does it account for nearby townships that have their own fully staffed fire departments that can assist in AA, etc?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 6:30 p.m.

As a former non union city employee (not a city retiree) and long time resident I am concerned about safety issues. I am also concerned about economic issues. I have held steadfast and will reiterate that if the ff and pd unions as well as others that pay little or no co-pay toward benefits started to pay their fare share that reductions could be avoided. This golden goose has got to stop. Save your jobs and those of your co-workers. Step up and be accountable. Most employed folks that still have the luxury of employer provided benefits have co-pays. It is baffling to think that ff and pd do not.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 9:17 p.m.

Tony..well said. BnR...This junk has been going on for 31 years that I am aware of(and no doubt longer). At some point it has to end. I am fully aware of of some mixed up priorities in city hall. I also believe we still give out far too much to support certain public services. At some point though, people have got to be realistic and make decisions based on today's economy and not rest on the glory day laurels.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

FD was already told that whether or not we took the healthcare option, we would still be laid off. Is that what you consider negotiating in good faith? We gave concessions last time and were the only department hit with layoffs. We're not saying we won't budge (despite what the city is telling you). What were asking for is a little fairness and the city meet us half way. Is that wrong?

Tony Livingston

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

It is not just the co pays, it is the retirement program that is also bankrupting the city. Why should anyone start receiving a retirement pension before age 62? There is no reason to start getting paid to NOT WORK at age 50. If everyone at city hall agreed to be VESTED they could quit their jobs and leave their pension waiting for them to start collecting at age 62. Think about the millions of dollars that is going into the pay for not working program. It is obscene and a huge drain on the taxpayer (property owners).


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

I hate fear and sympathy statements like "Dollars are few and times are tough but is everyone willing to sacrifice their safety?" or "Ann Arbor firefighters are dedicated and need stability and support. Give them what they need". I also hate blind comparisons to other districts where we compare lumped statistics like # people, # stations. They don't say anything but can be deceptive. Who knows if the fire department has enough money? We can't tell from this article because we don't know where they are spending the money they have? How much is going to pensions? How much is compensation? How much to administration? Maybe we have fewer people because our building standards are high and we have an optimized fire system?

try your best

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

My money says John and Roger will either say no comment and hope this article fades away without a public out cry or they will try to discredit him as a disgruntled former employee. Police and fire depts shouldn't have a "business Model" they should have a "public Safety Model". anybody who doesn't get that statement doesn't get what a police or fire dept is here for! I thought property taxes are for these vital services that we as taxpayers can't provide for ourselves?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

" and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fire loss." Said the outgoing fire chief Dominick Lanza. Wow, not even a million dollars in fire losses. Is that because the fire department did such a great job putting out fires ? No, it is because there are so few fires to put out. Now that the city is going to get the Fire Department out of making house calls for someone with chest pains the "business model" of having guys sit around and play house 97% of the time must change. Good Day


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Thank you for the honest assessment of the situation. Whatever hangup the city administration has with the fire department staff.....I pray that their attitude doesn't end up costing more lives. Thank you for blowing the whistle on them. I hope you have a good life, away from the madness that is Ann Arbor city politics.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

I think the numbers Mr. Lanza presents pretty much tells the story. I also have been shocked by the high number of fire deaths in recent years. For the mayor and city manager to suggest the incidence of fires is not great is an unmitigated, bald faced lie.

zip the cat

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3 p.m.

Wow Only a 1 years salary for 1 year of service I know people who retired after 35 yrs service who didn't get that perk. Strange we didn't hear of any problems with the city involving him. Just an abrupt departure Just turned tail and ran off. Cast his fellow underlings to the wolves. I hope the city finds a more receptive person to fill the job in the future.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

One that rolls over and plays dead for them? I'm sure they will. This is the first time they found one who WOULDN'T.

Chip Reed

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

Are you saying that they worked for 35 years and didn't get paid?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

First, Dominick Lanza DOES NOT receive a pension from the City of Ann Arbor at all. Second, I am not a firefighter or a police offer or a union member. Thank you, Mr. Lanza, for you straight forward comments. Everyone, please listen to Mr. Lanza. He came here to be of public service to the City of Ann Arbor and left because he wasn't allowed to do that.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

If you have a police emergency, the police respond. Any other emergency, gets a response from the fire department. Think about that.

zip the cat

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Not a very good choice for fire chief. When the going gets tough he jumps ship and sails off with a fat pension.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

Zip, your post is not factual. He did not receive a pension.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

So you're going to criticize him when he no longer has any stake in the game? Nothing left or lose or gain? At that point one would think hmmm maybe he has an honest assessment...vs.. what expertise do you bring to the table again?


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

He got nothing from a2 except a years salary.