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Posted on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ypsilanti officials: Fire department's future depends upon possible $1.3M SAFER grant

By Katrease Stafford

The Ypsilanti Fire Department will know within 30 days whether it will receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that, if received, would stave off layoffs.

City officials have said the grant will be necessary in order for the fire department to maintain its staff levels.

The grant would come from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Representative Millie Rosa said Ypsilanti's SAFER grant application is under review.The fire department applied for the grant in February. Rosa said when the decision is made, the fire department will be notified directly.

"This grant is still in the process," Rosa said. "All of the announcements haven’t been made yet."

Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said the grant will decide the future of the fire department. Ichesco said he requested $1.3 million for the grant that would allow him to retain his staff and possibly hire up to seven more employees.

"They will be coming in younger and at a much lower wage rate and lower benefits package," he said. "It will make the fire department that much more valuable."

At peak, the fire department had 35 firefighters in the 1980s, Ichesco said. Now, it has 18.

“It was projected that I was going to lose six firefighters currently employed and one did retire,” Ichesco said. “After that, we will have an additional two people that will retire. The (city) council agreed to hold off on the layoffs pending the grants but we’re still not out of the woods.”

Ichesco said the grant is crucial for the department, which has several veteran employees.

"People with 16 or 17 years of service could be laid off and that’s the driving force for the SAFER grant," he said.


Chief Jon Ichesco said the fire department has changed over the years.

Tom Perkins | For

In 1981, the department had one chief, one inspector and one secretary that comprised its administration staff.

Ichesco now works between 50 and 60 hours per week in order to fill the roles of what once were three separate jobs. He described the reduction in staff as a "dramatic dropoff."

“We’re trying to make do with what we have,” Ichesco said. “It’s just myself now doing all of the fire investigations, inspections, all of the clerical work and I’m an administrator. It’s been that way for five years."

In June, the Ypsilanti City Council unanimously approved city budgets through fiscal year 2015 that will prevent staff layoffs, but Ichesco said things can change.

“It’s really a temporary fix,” Ichecso said, referring to the budgets. “We have a lot of problems to deal with. It's really much more serious than our citizens have an understanding of."

Instead of layoffs, the fire department will reduce its force by three in 2013 by attrition, with the elimination of a vacant position and two retirements toward the end of 2012.

However, council noted that unless the SAFER grant is received, the department may be reduced by an additional four positions in 2014.

City Manager Ralph Lange told council that in order to ensure the city is on financially solid footing, tough choices could be made in the coming months that could result in job loss.

"Everyone in the state of Michigan has been downsizing," Lange said. "When you (ask) how many people will be cut, we need to do some more homework on that. It's not crystal clear. ... I do not forecast any layoffs between now and 60 days."

However, Lange said the future of the fire department could be dependent upon the grant.

"We’ve neither been approved or rejected," Lange said. "That could make a very large contribution to the general fund relative to the next couple of years. That's a major factor."

The fire budget, which is just under $2.5 million, is part of the general fund. Across all funds, the city budget shows $31.8 million in revenue and $31.6 million in expenditures for fiscal year 2012-13, including $13.7 million in general fund spending.

For fiscal year 2013-14, revenue will show a slight decrease to $30.7 million and expenditures will amount to $30.6 million. The city is expected to spend about $13.4 million of the general fund.

"That fund is under a lot of pressure due to debt," Lange said. "What we're trying to do now is what we're doing for the rest of the budget: evaluate the numbers."

With a stressed general fund, Lange said he isn't sure of the affect it may have on the fire department.

"How that will affect the fire department is undetermined," Lange said. "Is the picture rosy? Do we have all sorts of money going forward? No. Are we in trouble today? No. We’re trying to look into the future in terms of this large (Water Street) debt repayment that keeps increasing."

Ypsilanti must pay $30 million on its Water Street bond debt and continue to make payments through 2031. Its annual payments will grow to $1.7 million annually by 2015, and the city currently has $2.6 million set aside to pay down the debt.

Early projections show the city is facing a possible $4 million deficit for fiscal year 2016 and $4.6 million in 2017.

"We're kind of fighting for survival," said Firefighter Union President Ken Hobbs.

Fire officials said if the grant isn't received and layoffs occur, the city's fire services will be impacted.


City Manager Ralph Lange

Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require that interior structural firefighting procedures provide for at least two firefighters inside the structure and two firefighters outside of the structure.

Hobbs, who has been with the department for 26 years, said he's worried about the number of firefighters per shift decreasing from five to four, which would put the department right at the OSHA requirements.

"I don't think people are totally aware of that," Hobbs said. "You're probably going to see a reduction in services and we're saying that's not OK. We have to find a way to maintain five."

Ichesco said the department would have to figure out how to manage its services if its staff numbers further decreased.

"We will have to figure out how to staff our vehicles and the aeriel platform, the big truck, requires three people operating and I probably won’t be able to run that on a daily basis," he said. "We’ll go down to either two engines or one engine depending on the number of staff I have for the day. Our response time will be the same, I just won’t have the same number of people."

Ichescho said he is optimistic that the department will receive good news regarding the grant because of all of the support received from various officials.

Eastern Michigan University submitted a letter of support with the application along with Congressman John Dingell, Representative David Rutledge and State Sen. Rebekah Warren.

"We have all of this support, as well as citizen support and really that’s what it takes," he said.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Repeat after me: YOU CANNOT FUND OPERATING EXPENSES WITH LOANS. Say that ten times until it sinks in. We should not be hiring employees, all of whom have recurring expenses, from funds that are the result of one-time loans. Employees should be hired from the perspective of a reliable revenue base that can sustain the tax revenues needed to fund current and future recurring obligations. It's another matter altogether to fund capital projects with loans - this is a normal business practice.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Greg, Too: I can't tell if you're being purposely thick-headed, willfully illiterate, a combination of the two, or something else. I noted that "capital projects...funded with a normal business practice." I also noted that "operational expenses...should not be funded...with one-time payments." That should answer every statement you made thus far.

greg, too

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

GoNavy, did you know that most of the roadwork in the area is coming from grant money? Lighting upgrades? Yep same thing. Water upgrades? They get fed grant money, through different avenues like state or speciality branches, too. It is a way for the federal and state governments to weed out the weak governments and give money to those who they think will succeed. And did you read the name of the grant, by the way? Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response. Staffing is part of where the money, if awarded, is supposed to go. You might want to do a little research before you reply and tell us we are wrong again. So, since you think we are all morons, how do you plan to fix the problem? It's easy to shoot people down, how about adding something to the discussion.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

Honestly, both of you are playing semantic games. Loans and grants are "one time payments," which should not be used to fund operations. This year's grant is next year's hole in the budget. It's also the subsequent year's hole in the budget, and so on, if the grant was used initially to fund an operationally recurring expense.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 5:53 p.m.

A grant is very different from a loan. Grants do not need to be paid off. Also, with older employees retiring that will free-up some funds. That said, grant funding employees of a fire department is absolutely not ideal. I do hope the City can find funds to keep on any new grant hires down the road. If not, I would welcome a millage vote or something similar.

greg, too

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Repeat after me: IT'S NOT A LOAN. Getting federal grant money isn't all that uncommon and is another alternative way for cities and municipalities to get money into the coffers to spend. Road projects, park projects, sidewalks, etc. are funded by them all the time. I will agree with you that the money should not go to hiring employees that the base allotments will not be able to cover in the future. But applying for federal grant money to buy equipment, upkeep, etc. is common.

Katrease Stafford

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Below are some numbers provided to me by the fire department. I hope this helps provide some context: In 2011, the department responded to 600 fire calls and 1,566 EMU emergency calls. Of the 600 fire calls, 100 were for actual fires; 104 were rescues; 118 were false alarms; 30 mutual aid assists given; 33 hazmat responses were made; 79 were for hazardous conditions; and 133 responses were classified as other. They also responded three times to EMU's campus. For the first six months of 2012, the department responded to 325 fire calls.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

Katease, There are so many questions that are out there about this topic. What kind of numbers does the city have. Knowing that they don't respond to most medicals, how many total runs do they have? Some departments numbers are scewed too. Do they have one report number per run or per person that is involved in the run such as a car accident with 5 people between the two cars. The city has always relied on the other departments for help when fighting a fire for years. I don't see this changing, but I can hardly think of any fire other than a car/dumpster fire where they don't have other departments there. This should not change. It also goes the other way, where the city helps other departments on major scenes too. Has the city thought about Public Safety and cross training police and fire? Would this save money and resources? Knowing how the city works, there is so much more that could be dug into about budgets for every department. Would be nice for the citizens to have more information about how fast the city is falling and where all the monies are going.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

At one time, Public Safety was the Top Priority for a city. Now it is not. But than what did you expect from a city run by Democrats?

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

the flip side is cities are strapped for money and republicans hate all taxes. So I guess its a stand off. The truth is, anyone who blames a single party for all the problems we face isn't paying attention IMO.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

Once upon a time in the USA, corporations paid property taxes and income taxes. These funded schools, fire and police departments and other services. These corporations now hold us hostage. Free us from all taxes or we will move our factories to other poorer countries. This brings increasing levels of poverty both here and in the other countries.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

"Once upon a time in the USA, corporations paid property taxes and income taxes." For the most part they still do. Perhaps not as much as they should, but there are very few who don't pay some of both.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1 p.m.

What's wrong with the OSHA manning requirement? Why can't we man to this level?


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

The requirement originated from union activity. The unions were for the workers, but now have been virtually destroyed. Our state governor and others want to eleiminate collective bargaining, which is what brought us an 8 hour workday, weekends and benefits. Without unions, workers are helpless in maintaining OSHA requirements.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 11:20 a.m.

They is something basically wrong when you have to count on the federal government to help bail out a local city matter. It's even worse when you consider that the federal government has no money either. The voters need to wake up before it is too late. On the other hand, maybe we want to be the next Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

Sorry for the typo...bad eyes! 'They' should be 'there'. :)


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Goob.... You are right, but you have to remember that the voters are generally in denial or apathetic. They are hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. The problem is that tomorrow never comes. City managers squandered money in the past. Now we are paying for this mismanagement.