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Posted on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8 a.m.

Ann Arbor fire chief's final e-mail to staff indicative of challenges ahead

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor firefighters - from left, Matthew Hughes, Danielle Lalonde and Phil Smith - stand outside Station No. 1 on Fifth Street after returning from a call Tuesday evening.

Melanie Maxwell |

Before he turned in his badge and hung up his hat, Fire Chief Samuel Hopkins told Ann Arbor firefighters he'd pray for them.

"During these tough economic times, it is difficult to make up for the poor administrative decisions that were made during more prosperous periods," Hopkins wrote in a Sept. 10 e-mail to the entire city fire department.

"Therefore this city finds itself in financial difficulties," the chief continued. "In order to salvage the budget problems, the decision makers are planning to ask our members to sacrifice so that this city can attempt to recover economic stability going forward. In leaving, I pray that your safety and the safety of this beautiful city isn't part of the casualties of your sacrifice." received more than 400 pages of e-mails sent to and from Hopkins between Sept. 6 and 19, the last two weeks of his four-year stint as fire chief. The records, obtained Tuesday, came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted Sept. 28.

Hopkins hasn't returned calls from since announcing his retirement. But his e-mails add credence to rumors that the chief, who was well-respected within his department, left partly because he was frustrated with budget pressures in city hall. 

City Administrator Roger Fraser has proposed laying off 14 firefighters to address an expected budget deficit for 2010-11.

"The proposal to lay off 14 people is included in the budget plan for July of next year and that's still true," Fraser said. "We have requested that the fire department give us some cost reduction strategies that don't involve the layoff of firefighters and so far we haven't gotten much from them that does enough to mitigate even saving one position."

Fraser said he didn't think the proposed cuts directly pose a safety threat to firefighters or residents.

"There's nothing about the amount of staffing that directly relates to the safety of firefighters. It's all in how people are used on the scene of a fire," he said. "I know that that's a common plea when discussions are made about possible reductions, but the fact is that that's all in the hands of the people who are managing the scene."


Ann Arbor firefighter Danielle Lalonde loads a kit back onto the truck after responding to an injury call.

Melanie Maxwell |

As contract negotiations continue this week between the firefighters' union and city leaders, interim Fire Chief Greg Hollingsworth said morale in the department has been low. That's especially true for firefighters with low seniority, he said.

"They've all got families to worry about, so morale is an issue right now," Hollingsworth said.

A Facebook group called "Support the Ann Arbor Fire Department" was formed last week by what appears to be an employee of the department. It calls for a citizen response to the proposal to lay off firefighters and warns council members a vote against public safety "could end up being a vote against them come election time."

Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters' union, said the layoffs would impact the fire department's ability to provide acceptable service and Ann Arbor already is ranked below the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. He declined to comment further, saying it's too sensitive an issue right now.

Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, said the fire department has been asked to cut $1.4 million from its budget before the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Crawford, who recently predicted a deficit as high as $5.8 million in next year's budget, said he plans to give an updated financial forecast to the City Council in November.

This isn't the first time the city has proposed laying off firefighters - nor is it the first time firefighters have battled back with a public campaign to save jobs. The most recent round of layoff talks came in 2007, when the city proposed laying off three firefighters and leaving three vacant positions unfilled.

By that time, the city had already cut the budget for six years straight. Despite several rounds of layoff talks, no firefighter layoffs have occurred.

In the meantime, the fire department is watching its budget carefully and growing more frugal. An annual community open house scheduled for this coming weekend has been canceled in an effort to save the $5,000 to $7,000 it cost in the past to put on.

In its place will be a smaller event at Station 6, 1881 Briarwood Circle. The station will be open to the public from 1-4 p.m. Sunday for anyone who wants to stop in, but there will be no festivities.

"We're trying to find a few thousand here and a few thousand there to do what we can," Hollingsworth said. "We're working on trying to find any and all kinds of dollars we can use to offset some of these jobs."

The fire department currently operates on a budget of about $14 million a year, the bulk of which goes to wages and benefits for firefighters. 

The department has 94 full-time employees, which includes two management assistants and the chief; the rest are in the firefighters' union. In 2001-02, the department had 113.5 full-time equivalent employees.

Hollingsworth said the clock is ticking for the fire department to come up with creative ways to cut costs, and at this point, it may be hard to avoid layoffs.

"A lot of our costs are personnel costs, so outside of personnel costs, we don't have a million dollars over and above that to actually cut," said Hollingsworth, who was assistant fire chief prior to his promotion.

He said the looming cuts present a threat to the safety of Ann Arbor residents and firefighters.

"If we end up losing some of these firefighters, obviously we're going to have to reduce the number of trucks we have in service and potentially close a station," he said. "Response times are going to get longer, we're going to have to consolidate some stations, and that'll be a big thing."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 12:41 p.m.

for the record, I'm not a firefighter snapshot. I'm just someone who happens to have been following this issue. Who happens to know that this particular union has brought many ideas to your friend Roger - ideas he has refused to even consider. They could transport patients on the medical calls, saving the city a lot of money, even possibly creating revenue for the city. ROGER won't hear of it, he prefers not to compete with a private company. Cities like Southfield went to this system years ago. The firefighters are already trained to provide this service, they are city employees already, why not let them do this - save the taxpayers some money? Does that make sense to you one bit?

D LaBelle

Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 7:28 p.m.

Great points a2taypayer! Ann should use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain letters of good deeds and commendations that have been issued to Ann Arbor firefighters and police for their actions. How many finger-pointing people on this blog can HONESTLY say that they would put their own safety in jeopardy by entering a burning building, entering an unstable structure or a trench, walk up to a bank that is being robbed or enter a home or where armed people are fighting? Some people on this blog REALLY think that public safety jobs are all fun and games. Shame on anyone who doesn't honor our safely providers. And Snapshot, I honor your service along with other military personnel. But you, of all people, should commend your comrades who protect this country at home - when you are at sea protecting our country from afar. You all all noble in my opinion! Not everyone can be a firefighter, a police officer or a soldier...Thank God that there are people who can!


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 7:16 p.m.

Wow, budget cuts always generate heated discussions but the flashpoint on those union tempers is dropping faster than my savings account. The guys at the station better make sure those fire extinquishers are charged up in case someone get so hot under that collar they spontaniously combust. As far as I can tell no one in Ann Arbor "hates" firefighters and no one wants firefighters to work for no pay or benefits. We just want them to recognize that there are limited resources available and reductions and some sacrifices are in order. The union doesn't want to hear that and apparently refuses to believe that budget cuts are necessary. The fact that they're badmouthing Roger, who is the city manager and I think, all city employees boss, makes me wonder if a volunteer fire department might be an option to consider. I don't have a union but I refuse to be intimidated into paying more taxes to the city that I can't afford. The city manager is basically the taxpayer's union representitive and I have to stand by his decisions. If he thought the money savings plans the department submitted were unworkable then I will defer to his expertise in the area of budget management just as I would defer to the departments expertise in putting a fire out.


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 3:25 p.m.

Also, never EVER have I heard of a city who HATES firefighters! It is disgraceful and shameful and beyond belief! Where did this hate come from? These firefighters who would die for you, who may not go home to their loved ones, if that is what they need to do, they will without a thought. Yet you spew so much venom about them. Sick. And why?


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 12:15 p.m.

First of all Ann Arbor is not financial hurting like most of the cities in Michigan just look at all the new construction in the city. As far as University property, that is our cities fault for not receiving any funds for services rendered to U of M. I have heard that U of M would help fund the fire department but the city refused it because the city did not like that U of M specified all of the money must go to the fire department. And my fellow residents that are buying into all of fraser's comments. Let me tell you, your safety will be compromised if they cut the fire department. Those of you who dislike the fire department for what ever reason obviously never needed their services. Never had a loved one lying on the floor in cardiac arrest, never been so sick that you cannot breath sufficiently, never been in a bad car accident, or never had pets or a loved one or yourself trapped in a house fire. Do you want to cut these people out of our city? And when it comes to their wages and benefits, they earned them as far as I am concerned. We all make career choices and all of us could have chose to become a firefighter. You want their pay and benefits become a firefighter. Or is it that you do not have any desire to go into a burning building and risk your life for someone you do not know. May be you just do not have it in you to take care of sick and/ or hurt people. Well thank God that they do! Firefighters deserve every bit of their pay and benefits. How quickly did we all forget September 11 2001? They were heroes, they protect us, willing to die for us and some have payed that price, their families have payed that price. But you think they are over payed and have to many benefits. If these men and women lose their jobs do to layoffs, I hate to see what will happen when that day comes and we need them. Lets hold are city manager, mayor and council responsible for this. they choose to spend money on new buildings and parking structures and art, and jeapordise are safety. Remember we elect them they work for us. I do not want new taxes, we pay enough. We pay enough to keep our public safety in place. There is some mismanagement of money here. As I said prior, freedom of information act, it is time we get all of their emails to see what they are really doing with our money.


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 12:07 p.m.

Ok, enough is enough. For those of you that would like to believe Fraser's crap... the FF union did present multiple, not only cost cutting ideas, but revenue generating ideas that would not cost the residents a dime. Let me say it again, wouldn't cost you a dime. All of them were shot down by Fraser and council. So, if a city REALLY wanted cost cutting ideas because they were in such financial hardship, don't you think they would jump at opportunities presented? They even turned down the low hanging fruits. Also, the statement that "we haven't gotten much from them"... well, the FF's came up with over half a millon dollars to cut. Along with that, keep in mind the CITY refused to accept the cost cutting AND revenue generating opportunities the FD presented. So, before you go around hating your fire fighters and thinking they aren't giving anything to help, be advised, they are giving left and right, but just like in years past... the city is going to put the citizens against the FD but using the media to spread these rumors. Oh, and for snapshot... I know you're probably the hardest working man alive, and the FD should "act like men and suck it up". Since after all you said you've done more with less. Let's see... Every navy person is trained in firefighting techniques. If a fire breaks out, ALL are trained. So, you essentially had hundreds of trained fire fighters. I'm also sure you ran on all kinds of medical calls, car accidens, and general non-emergency calls while you were on your ship.


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 12:04 p.m.

I'd like to ask Snapshot a question... do you do your job for no benefits and no pay? That's what you suggested that the AAFD do. Is that realistic? Also, I happen to know for a fact that the AAFD Union took several cost savings ideas to Fraser that would save the city enough money to save these jobs (one that would also actually MAKE the city money) ALL OF WHICH HE SHOT DOWN! He isn't interested in saving this money. He is only interested in reducing the number of firefighters. Personally I think he gets a secret thrill out of it. The city isn't hurting for money, they have been presented with cost savings ideas and ways to make money from the AAFD, they aren't interested. Someone please investigate Fraser, his career in other cities where he has also built huge new city halls while also slashing city services... it's an interesting pattern.


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 10:59 a.m.

You people don't get it. This city is NOT in financial hardship. Fraser is using this downturn to attack the pay and benefits of his employees. People like snapshot are falling for it. I can't belive you want these men and women to give up their house and family vacations. They are hard working people and deserve decent pay and wages. They don't need to give up anything. They should get fair wages compared to their peers.


Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 7:52 a.m.

Ann Arbor 27 square miles surrounded by reality!! Don't forget Roger Fraser chooses not to live in the city. Save Mack Pool,build another homeless shelter,buy a chicken for your yard,write a ticket for walking along a RR track,spend money on a green belt. Why not put toll booths on every entrance to the city coming and going. The police would have a hayday writing tickets for every thing and look like heroes in city hall. It's time for city leaders top to bottom to let their heads have a little sunshine! How much does the BIG U pay for city services! send them a bill and when they don't pay sue them!!! forget public safety do like Detroit. The coal-man did it Roger the coalman did it track


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:06 p.m.

I think Ann Arbor needs a change! Start with removing council members who are spending are tax dollars without the concern of us, the citizens and are safety. Those who remain and new council members elected in need to take to heart the safety of every child, mother, and father in this city. Next they need to remove fraser and get a new city manager who is not loading his pockets while cutting others. I think it is time we use the freedom of information act to get fraser's and all of city council's emails (including the mayor) to see what they are really doing.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:46 p.m.

So according to craig, firefighters shouldn't be allowed to eat lunch, huh? Or perhaps they should all hop in their personal vehicles and go get some food. I can see how that would save time. After all, it's clearly much more expedient to run through Hillers into the parking lot, drive their personal vehicles back to the station, then hop in the truck and go. Logical argument to me...


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:31 p.m.

Some of these comments are crazy. Snapshot.. while you paint a lovely picture of your adventures in the Navy it really has nothing to do with what AAFF's are facing. You are talking about their careers, they aren't in the Navy, so stick to reality. These are public services for the City of Ann Arbor and they are about to be slashed again.....


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 1:25 p.m.

Good article Mr. Stanton. There's all kinds of "fires" that sometimes need extinquishing. I see at least three here in here in Ann Arbor; First and foremost the "budget" fire, Second, the "attitude" fire, Third, the "expectation" fire. Please allow me to clarify but first I will establish my credibility as a Navy trained firefighter for the benefit of "Pyro" whom I assume is a firefighter. I received my training in Jacksonville in shipboard and aircraft firefighting. My introduction was a Master Chief who asked if there was anyone with previous "land" firefighting" experience. Several sailors raised their hands. That salty chief then said, "first thing you guys need to learn is that out at sea, NOT putting the fire out is not an option". He went on to say that it didn't matter how many died or were injured we'd press on until it was out or we were all dead. The reason should be obvious to you Pyro. I've put my life on the line and am probably one of the few folks who ever "goosenecked" a two inch firehose over the side of a carrier to put out a fuel fire on a fuel port during refueling. That was just a collateral duty to my regular flight deck duty and danger working 12 hours or more every day. So, I've been there and done that with fewer resources, less equipment and safety gear, and for a lot less money. Now I'd like to respond and clarify CityFF's comment about the 50 hour work week. I have no idea how Ann Arbor works but other fire departments operate on a 3 day on 4 day off basis. Like I told the California firefighter I bought my Harley from, "that's not a job, it's a hobby". Is Ann Arbor on this "hobby" work schedule for the 50 hours you mention? So here's how I see your situation in the fire department. You joined voluntarily, you get paid well with more than generous benefits, you can probably retire early, have great disability benefits should you get hurt, and you can't snow me here, you enjoy your job, the comrade, the danger, and the opportunity to engage and overcome a fire, save lives, and enjoy the recognition you get as an asset to the community. So quit whining already. Times are tough and there are folks still on the flight deck of that aircraft carrier fighting fires far more dangerous (think magnesium which can burn through three feet of steel real fast) with fewer resources, and no where near the benefits or the recognition, with a greater chance of getting killed. Remember, putting the fire out is not an option for them. they can't stand across the street and watch it burn. And if they die, you won't even here about it unless it's a relative. Here's what I propose Mr. Matt Schroeder should do. Stop whining, show some courage, recognize that there's got to be sacrifice made, show that your union does support the community and that you and the other firefighters just don't do it for the money (that would make you a mercenary), but for the feeling you get when you truly help the community and a sense of duty, sit your butt down at the bargaining table and give up part of all your benefits and wages to save the jobs of your fellow firefighters jobs. That's what I would do and that's what you should do. I expect your standard of living wouldn't change that much. You guys probably all own your own home, have a couple of vehicles, a few toys, go on vacations, etc. etc. Show the community what you're made of and that you really care about your fellow firefighters and their families by making the necessary sacrifice. There are folks in far worse shape and they still have to pay property taxes and you guys are asking for more. This raising taxes to keep supporting your current lifestyle is just showing me that you're willing to throw everybody in front of the bus to save yourselves. That's how I see your whining and trying to negotiate more funding that isn't there to secure. Suck it up like real men, move on, and do the job you chose to do. If you and the others don't have the courage to do that, you can always quit or retire like Samuel Hopkins, probably with close to his working salary as a pension, maybe even tax free. Give me a break, a tax break, not a broken back carrying your weight of your hefty and unrealistic expectations.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 11:57 a.m.

Not sure about the most recent contract but it is safe to assume the firefighters have a sweet deal. For some reason they have always had the upper hand. It goes without question that there are many areas within city government that can be cut back. Should publice services get reduced? I would be interested to know what the various union and non-union health benefit co-pays are. Are there other benefits that are being given away? What about the pension fund? I mention these things because I know in the past there were sacred cow line items within the city budget that would not be cut. It is time to look at the whole picture and make some wise (wrong word in Ann Arbor) budget decisions.

Jody Durkacs

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 11:29 a.m.

Ann Arbor obviously has its priorities completely out of whack. Yes, let's lay off 14 firefighters, make our crews unsafe, fall FURTHER below the national standard for fire safety, but DON'T CANCEL THE MILLION DOLLAR ART PROJECT!!! I look forward to attempting to kick out council members next November who continue down this path...


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 9:25 a.m.

City FF: If that is so, I would love to see that study. Lots of comments here...but no real data. Also, is there some non-FF, non-muni employee or management group that did a study? I would like to see that.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:59 a.m.

Dagny, How is what an off duty firefigter does on hi off time any of yours or they cities buisness. We work 50 hours a week and if some of us work on the side to provide for our families relevant? We are all just trying to provide for our families the best we can. We work hard and we are not greedy. We just want fair pay and benefits. I believe a study was done that compared FF staffing levels of all the Big Ten schools. Per capita A2 was far understaffed compartivley.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

For the record, I added a comment to the story from Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters' union (see above). He said the layoffs would impact the fire department's ability to provide acceptable service and Ann Arbor already is ranked below the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. This, of course, is something I will look into further and report on later.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:27 a.m.

Craig11152 - You make valid points - BUT - I can also tell your not a firefighter and you have no diea what they do on a daily basis for the 24 hrs they are on duty, it is only what you see with your eyes. And for all of the persons complaining about the union and what they have taken from the city - YES - times are hard!!!!! Just remember is takes two to tango and each contract that the firefighters agree to with their respective employer has to be agreed upon by both parties. Firefighters at a scene......NFPA 1500 states for every 2 firefighters inside a burning building, 2 firefighters need to be outside ready to assist should either the the initial FF's become hurt, trapped etc or they need assistance with the rescue of a trapped occupant. Ruth....Contracts talks are ongoing! and the union rigth now is working without a contract! You say hard times are here...YES they are - but IF the city is in such a dire financial hardship, I ask you....WHY are they building a 5 story addition to City Hall, why are they building a 4 story underground parking structure, why are they building a new train station/parking garage and relying on bonds to do it. Those bonds while nice and easy to use have to be repaid, just like the credit cards / loans we all have. There will always be people who question what is good and bad for a city, that is the nature of the beast - for all of the negative persons, get both sides of the story, contact your council person directly and visit a fire station or the police station and get both sides of the story before you react.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:22 a.m.

I'd like to see some details comparing the level of fire protection in Ann Arbor to similar cities. I'd also like to see some report on how many fires the city responds to each month/year, compared to places with a similar number of fires. And how do the townships handle fire protection? Do they rely on Ann Arbor to supply fire protection? Do they pay for it? I suspect that the city is over-protected when it comes to fires. I also want to know if firefighters have second jobs, etc.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 8:01 a.m.

This city is not in financial trouble. They have a 10 million dollar surplus. They are using everyone elses excuse of financial hardship to go after the pay and benefits of these civil servants. They see this as their chance to attack the firefighters and they feel the public will back them with the false sense of the city going broke. The city just wants to put away more money to build big unneccessary buildings and complexes. Don't let Fraser fool you.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:29 a.m.

How much cash does the Ann Arbor police and fire millage generate each year? Is the budget shortfall the result of a millage that's not up to the task, or is it the product of a properly funded millage whose proceeds are being redirected to other services?


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:19 a.m.

I don't understand why this city cares more about saving the trees and the parks than peoples lives! Let's look at the budget for parks and rec!

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:07 a.m.

"This is about reducing salary and benefit costs...The union needs to get at the bargaining table and recognize that the hard times will be with us for a long time." A good point, however will they be willing to take pay and benefit cuts to avoid lay offs? I would hope so. But my gut says they will instead play the "public safety" card to at minimum maintain the status quo.That gut feeling is what prompts my initial response.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:06 a.m.

I say if they do not like their pay then they can leave! The union has no place where the safety of the public is concerned! I say lay them all off, then hire new just like Regan did with the air traffic controllers! Municipals employees are not SACRED COWS!


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 6:47 a.m.

Time to have a bake sale when things heat-up in town. It may be time for an income taxs?


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 6:18 a.m.

This is about reducing salary and benefit costs. It is not about firefights shopping for their groceries during non fire times. The union needs to get at the bargaining table and recognize that the hard times will be with us for a long time.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 6:06 a.m.

Fraser also talks about managing staff at a scene. I am not a firefighter but I know firefighters from another city. We had a conversation a couple months ago when I brought up A2's proposed cuts. They told me that when they fight a fire they have a rescue team on hand in case a wall fell or the team inside gets trapped. That has happened to one of my friends twice. A2 runs with 3 (instead of 4) person rigs now. If they don't have enough for a safety team and something traps the firefighters inside they will die. Die. Are there any firefighters out there who can give us a trained opinion? I find this statement of Fraser's shocking if this is true. No wonder morale is in the tank and Hopkins is bailing!

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 6:01 a.m.

If fire fighters actually cared about citizen safety I wouldn't see them at the deli counter in Hillers while a truck idles in the parking lot of Arborland. Because I can just about guarantee the response time of that truck is at least doubled if a fire fighter has to run through Hillers in to the parking lot then negotiate the truck out of Arborland parking lot on to Washtenaw.