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Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials seeking public feedback before closing two fire stations

By Ryan J. Stanton

Consideration of a proposal to close two Ann Arbor fire stations and switch to a three-station model is being put on hold — at least until later this fall.

City officials said they realized it's not an ideal time to deploy the plan, which relies heavily on reopening Station 2 at Stadium and Packard and having that be one of three stations.

The reason that's not ideal is because the Stadium bridges are out through the end of the year and East Stadium Boulevard could be under construction through September.

The original proposal presented last month by Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard called for transitioning toward a three-station model starting in June.


Steve Powers

City Administrator Steve Powers and Mayor John Hieftje said they're going to wait out the projects taking place along Stadium Boulevard and use that time to go out to the public to get feedback on the proposal. The overall plan actually calls for closing three of the city's five fire stations and reopening Station 2 for a net reduction of two stations.

"We are going to have Stadium Boulevard torn up right in front of the station, so you're only going to have one lane in each direction for much of that time," Hieftje said. "That's just a poor way to go, because there's really no way for those cars to get out of the way for a firetruck.

"So we've got some physical impediments in the way and we might as well take advantage of the time to thoroughly vet the idea."

Hubbard could not be reached for comment. In an email memo sent in mid-March to all fire department employees, Hubbard banned his firefighters from providing information about the pending restructuring plan to the media.

"No personnel shall give interviews or distribute propaganda about the restructure proposal without permission from the fire chief," Hubbard's email stated.

Given the existing staff levels, Hubbard believes concentrating the fire department's resources in three stations instead of five will better position the city to respond to fires.

Powers stressed Hubbard's plan, which he endorsed as city administrator, remains merely a proposal for consideration. Though it's an administrative change that doesn't require council approval, he said it's important to get buy-in from the council.

Powers said he and Hubbard will go out into the community to gather public input, answer questions, explain the plan and then report back to council sometime in the fall.

He said he wants to meet with neighborhood associations and go into more detail regarding impacts to specific neighborhoods in the city.

Powers said any implementation would follow the completion of the bridges replacement project toward the end of the year. The street reconstruction should be done by then.

The Ann Arbor firefighters union has been fighting back in response to Hubbard's plan. Instead of closing stations, the union argues the city should be increasing staffing in the fire department to meet national standards for responding to fires.

Powers presented a budget plan to the City Council Monday night that maintains 82 full-time employees in the fire department heading into the next fiscal year July 1. Both the fire chief and the union have expressed a desire to increase staffing to 88 firefighters.

Despite a planned surplus in next year's budget, which would be enough to hire four more firefighters, Hieftje and Powers expressed doubts the city has enough money to increase staffing levels in the department in any sustainable manner.

They said the city is applying for a federal SAFER grant and pressing the state to live up to its obligation to fully fund state fire protection grants.

SAFER stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response. It's a grant program created to provide funding directly to local fire departments to help increase staffing levels and meet national standards. Nearby cities such as Dearborn, Ferndale and Southfield have received SAFER grants in recent years ranging from $850,000 to $2 million.


A fire engine backs into the downtown Ann Arbor fire station on a recent evening.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We've applied for a SAFER grant and have some confidence in that," Hieftje said. "We're also working with our folks in Lansing for increased fire protection money. "

Hieftje hinted at an upcoming lobbying effort.

"We're going to be working in a concerted effort with members of the firefighters union to do some lobbying up there with the Legislature," he said. "It's a more concerted effort than we may have seen in the past among all of the cities that receive fire protection money."

Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is one of four communities in the state underfunded by six figures or more when it comes to state fire protection grants.

Under a law passed by the Legislature in the 1970s, the state is required to reimburse local municipalities like Ann Arbor for the fire protection services they provide for state facilities.

The state fire protection grant payment to Ann Arbor this year amounts to a little more than $1 million, down 10.6 percent from the year before and nowhere near the $2.2 million called for in the funding formula, which is based on the amount of state-owned property in the city.

If the city had the extra $1.2 million it's owed by the state, it could hire an additional 15 firefighters and put many of the concerns about staffing levels to rest.

According to the city's finance department, the cost of hiring a firefighter under a new labor agreement with the firefighters union is $79,599, inclusive of wages and benefits.

"As we pursue other funding opportunities — whether that's state funding of the fire protection grant, whether it's success with a federal grant that has been submitted — help with both of those items would result in additional positions for fire," Powers said.

Hieftje said he and Council Member Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, sat down with Hubbard and Powers recently to talk about the issues facing the fire department. Hieftje said both he and Teall were in favor of taking a step back on implementing the three-station model.

"I wouldn't say we're convinced until we've had more input from the public and we have time to thoroughly weigh the pluses and minuses of the chief's plan," he said. "And I really commend the chief for coming forward with a creative plan."

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.



Thu, Apr 19, 2012 : 2:01 a.m.

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE Fourth, you repeatedly point to the ratio of 4.5 square miles per station. It is the number used by the Texas State Board of Insurance as stated by an individual named Pieter Sybesma in a different article. We don't know why the Texas State Board of Insurance uses this figure; it's not discussed beyond citing Sybesma. If anything, it's used to contrast the findings of the thesis with those of another organization. Fifth, Ann Arbor has a population density of 4200 people per square mile, which is right in the middle of the range above (according to Wikipedia). So what if Ann Arbor had 1 station per 7.5 square miles? How many stations would it need? 27.7 square miles / 7.5 square miles per station is 3.7 (which is fewer than 6; in fact it's fewer than 5). Sixth, ultimately the number of stations per square mile is a correlation. The key issue is how often can we get 4 firefighters on the site within 5 minutes (1 minute to get the trucks out the door, 4 minutes to drive to the fire). The proposed three-station model is measurably safer than the current five-station model. It does not meet the NFPA standard, but given current funding it is impossible to meet the standard. Either we do the best we can with current funding or we bring in additional funding.


Sat, Apr 21, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

I was hoping for a response from @Ranzini.


Thu, Apr 19, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

@Ranzini: I believe you've misread the report. As described on p. 8 NFPA 1710, the standard we're talking about, divides total response time into three segments, and gives a maximum time of each. Those three segments are dispatch time (time to take the call and notify the station), turnout time (time for the station to get out the door once they've been notified), and response time (the travel time from the station to the scene). Further on p. 8 the author states he will not consider dispatch time, just turnout and travel time, and states a 1-minute max for the first and a 4-minute max for the second. Add them together and you get 5 minutes. The author concludes that for the given range of population densities, the departments that met the NFPA 1710 standard had at most 7.5 square miles per station. The 4.5 square mile figure is first cited on p. 10 when the author discusses the variety of standards various organizations use, and that's the one used by the Texas State Board of Insurance. It is again cited on p. 19. In neither case is it tied to the NFPA standard. Nor is it ever related to population density. It's strictly provided to contrast the author's findings with other standards that various organizations advocate. And furthermore it's never referred to as a "study" as you did. It's only the standard of the one organization. If you read p. 5 you'll see the three research questions the author is attempting to answer, and they relate to meeting the NFPA 1710 standards. You have previously advocated that Ann Arbor should try to meet that same standard, and as long as you still are, the figure is 7.5 square miles per station. If you're now advocating a different standard, that of the Texas State Board of Insurance, you can use the 4.5 square mile figure. Have you abandoned the NFPA 1710 standard?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Apr 19, 2012 : 7 a.m.

@Peregrine: thanks for taking the time to read the research study I cited in my post. Per the study the 1 station per 7.5 square miles density of fire stations results in a response time of five minutes on average for four firefighters, and the NFPA standard requires a response time of four minutes on average for four firefighters, which the Texas study indicates requires 1 fire station for each 4.5 square acres.


Thu, Apr 19, 2012 : 2 a.m.

@Ranzini: I read the document that you cited, and I don't think you fully and fairly represented it or that which is stated within it. First, this document was not produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The document is a report submitted by one individual as part of the requirements to get a credential from the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. In other words, it's one person's thesis. That does not disqualify the conclusions, but it's important to put this in perspective and not treat it as official policy of the NFPA. Second, the document is not trying to establish standards. It is looking for correlations between features of fire departments and the ability to meet the NFPA standard. Third, the document concludes that of fire departments that serve areas with population densities ranging from 1,125 to 7,286 people per square mile, those that met the standard had one station for no more than 7.5 square miles. CONTINUED...

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 10:41 a.m.

@Goober & Peregrine: the number of fire stations a city should have to meet national standards for response times is actually a question that has studied by scientific methods and conclusions for best practices have been reached. If you read this document, you will see research that concludes that 7.5 square miles per station will result in average response times of 5 minutes (see page 14). The NFPA standard requires four firefighters to respond within 4 minutes to 90% of all fires. See the bottom of page 10 for the research on response times required to meet the average four minutes in the standard, which requires 4.5 square miles per station ("the ideal response area measures 4.5 square miles"). To have one fire station per 4.5 square miles when Ann Arbor has 27.0 square miles of land, 6 fire stations would be needed in Ann Arbor. It's great that we actually have six then, even if we only use five currently!  Obviously our former city leaders knew what they were doing instead of the current group who want to use only three fire stations to cover a city of 27 square miles! For the square miles in Ann Arbor, see


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

I mistakenly replied to my own comment immediately above rather than yours. I won't paste it all again here. Please see above.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 5:52 a.m.

I realize that if you're inclined to complain that it's fun to accuse the city of not making public safety a priority, as a couple commenters have done above. But that's clearly false. The proposal to move to the three fire station model is clearly motivated by public safety. The problem with the current model is that in most parts of the city, TWO fire stations have to arrive at a fire BEFORE any firefighters can ENTER the structure. The reason is that you need FOUR fire fighters on the scene -- two to go in and two to stay out. But right now FOUR of our stations are only staffed by THREE firefighters. So when such a station arrives on the scene, they have to WAIT for another station to arrive before anyone enters the structure. So as hard as it is to believe, safety would be improved by shifting to a three station model where each station has at least four firefighters (in fact two stations would have six firefighters). This proposal is an attempt to create the deployment that maximizes public safety given current budget constraints. Whether you agree with the argument for the new model or not, any honest person would agree that it is motivated by a concern for public safety.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

@Ranzini: My comment was addressed to those above who claim that public safety is not a priority of the city. @ranger007 above claims, "public safety is clearly last on their list of priorities". @Sieben_7 says above, "Where do the cities priorities lie? I would be interested in seeing where police and fire protection rank in that list." @In_Flight asserts, "...residents put safety services #1 on the priority list only the have those same 'officials' constantly push it to the bottom." I find these comments to be disingenuous. And I'd be willing to guess that you would agree with me. The very fact that this proposal has been put out there indicates that public safety is a priority. It is an attempt to improve public safety over the current model within current budget constraints. Wouldn't you agree? I too am aware that this proposal, even though it would allow firefighters to get into a structures more quickly, still does not meet NFPA standards. Chief Hubbard has been clear about this as well. Another option, which you advocate, would be to raise funding to increase staffing. I think that's a serious proposal, which needs to be on the table and part of the conversation. But as you saw when you suggested above increasing the "residential and non-residential soil erosion, sedimentation control and grading permit and inspection fees", there exists vocal resistance to raising any revenue. But I applaud you for looking for and proposing specific ways of raising the revenue for this.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:13 a.m.

"So we've got some physical impediments in the way and we might as well take advantage of the time to thoroughly vet the idea." So IF Stadium were not going to be torn up, they would not bother to "thoroughly vet the idea" ! Don't you just love that way of doing business?


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 1:58 a.m.

What kind of response did they actually think they would get...public safety is clearly last on their list of priorities.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

Even though each and every picture I have seen of our new city adninistrator is quite scary, I vote to close them. Too many high priced firemen - too many fire stations for a city of our size - too many fire stations not coordinated with nearby communities - and, we cannot afford the high price of the retirement costs of firemen. We need to start immediately to reduce to only what is needed.

In Flight

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : midnight

Let's test your knowledge in this area. Did you read ICMA analysis the city received? The one where they compared other department of equal size? The one that showed all the other cities have about DOUBLE the stations and staffing of Ann Arbor? Case closed.

Linda Peck

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

NO, can you hear us City Council and Mr. Mayor?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

Does the city not get it -- it is quite apparent that most individuals wish to have the Ann Arbor Fire Department at full staff with all stations open. Keep them open and fulled staffed.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 10:01 p.m.

Any one who thinks that prince john and his merry band would pay any attention to public opinion must still have a buzz left over from april fools day....

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

@Gale Logan: sorry, as many times as you repeat it, it doesn't make what you are saying true, because it's not! Money *did* was taken from the General Fund and put into the 1% for Art Fund. "During deliberations, city staff confirmed that at least a portion of the public art allocation required from the new municipal building (aka the police/courts building) could be associated with the general fund – about $50,000 out of the $250,000." See: I was there at the meeting. The reporter is accurate. At least $50,000 came from the general fund and went to the 1% for art fund.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:27 p.m.

It seems as though our city needs the University of Michigan to chip in their part for once. Stop giving MASSIVE tax breaks to the U, they don't need it anymore. We the citizens have our services cut and public officials laid off while they add yet another massive expansion to Chrystler Arena. Is it just me or does this system seem distorted? Why does the city pay to patrol, pave, and maintain all the streets that the U does not pay a cent to maintain?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

"Stop giving MASSIVE tax breaks to the U..." The University of Michigan doesn't pay taxes because it - like all of the state universities and community colleges - is a constitutional corporation, called into being in the State Constitution by the authority of the State of Michigan itself. Technically, it is part of the state, and the state doesn't pay taxes to itself or anyone else.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

@Gale Logan: FYI, when ICMA wrote their expert report, the city had 94 fire department employees and it was described by ICMA as an unsafe situation. While rules changes in the new contract will allow them to cover more hours of coverage with fewer people, the current level of 76 employees or even the proposed level of 82 employees is below the "magic number" cited by the Fire Chief and the Union. 88 is the minimum required to properly staff the department at this time, if you want to have five fire stations and not three, and want to meet national standards for response times and not get full alarm coverage in scientifically adequate time to just 53% of fires in the city. Even the fire chief admits that his three station plan does not give the city adequate fire safety and is only on the table because the Mayor and City Hall don't want to give him the 88 employees he needs. Let's email our city council now to ask them to fund 88 employees and do it without this new "study", which as @Brad points out will last until after the only election that counts in this town, the August Democratic Party Primary. You can get all the email addresses of City Council and the Mayor at: Why not write them? Now.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

Public opinions such as these, as well as the true analysis of numbers, ratios, etc. needs to be done officially for the city. I do not trust AA hired consultants, nor do I trust AA city officials and leaders to provide correct data and calculations. Go figure! Can't trust our elected officials!!! Tough position to be in - eh? As an AA tax payer - cant trust our leaders to provde accurate data or information. Almost as bad as our school board!

Gale Logan

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

The consultants report on the fire department did not mention staffing as a problem.

Gale Logan

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

Treetown: As you probably understand general fund dollars don't go into the art fund so the fund can't be spent on the fire department. Money from the streets and sewer funds do go into the art fund (1% up to $250,000 per project) but I don't think a 1% for public safety would be possible because salaries in the fire department are not capital improvements, that is why it works for art. The art is part of the project. Otherwise cities across the state would be going into their utility and streets budgets to pay for cops and fire fighters, they would all have 1% or 5% for public safety, instead many cities have passed public safety millages. Ann Arbor has not.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

If the city can at their leisure can approve 1% of all the "buckets" for art, then, at their leisure they can approve to take 1% of all and put it toward the safety of the community. What's more important here?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Thanks for that explanation. I guess there's a good reason for the separation of general and non-general fund dollars, so my simplistic sloganesque suggestion (S3?) won't work. I still hold to the basic idea -- stop putting *our* money into art, when what we need is better funding for proper fire and police protection.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8 p.m.

"at least until later this fall." Yeah - like after the elections.

In Flight

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

"Ann Arbor officials seeking public feedback before closing two fire stations" What a freaking joke! City officials sought the feedback of ICMA at a cost of $54,000 to discover the FD is understaffed. What did they do about that? Nothing. "City Officials" sought the opinion of residents through countless polls and discussions to hear residents put safety services #1 on the priority list only the have those same 'officials' constantly push it to the bottom. How about an article that reads: Ann Arbor officials seeking public feedback on how well respected they are amongst the residents.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

Why not! Just think of all the "Dog Parks" we can build!

Sieben 7

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

Where do the cities priorities lie? I would be interested in seeing where police and fire protection rank in that list. We are below minimum staffing of both departments so this must say something about what our city council and mayor consider to be of importance. We are already below minimum response times and yet we want to decrease the number of stations? I find it interesting that the city does not even know it's own response times " analyzed the fire department's response times to major fires last year and found the department struggling to meet national standards — a finding that both the fire chief and Safety Services Administrator Barnett Jones questioned at the time. But the recent study from ICMA affirmed the conclusions." (from the prior article linked to in the story ( ). I will gladly forgo a piece of "art" like we have in front of the NEW city hall in favor of a quicker response time that could be tghe difference between life and death and/or a minor fire or one resulting in the loss of a dwelling. Prioritize Ann Arbor and don't have a beautiful shell with nothing inside it.

Gale Logan

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:52 p.m.

The Chief's plan deserves a fair assessment. This is a good move by Teall. Glad to see the new administrator and the chief taking the plan out to the neighborhoods. Oh hum... No general fund $$ are allowed into the art fund. None of the art fund $$ can be spent on the fire department.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

Repeal the 1% art tax and replace it with a 1% public safety tax, to be used for fire and police. Basic services first, before even considering luxuries.

Dave Gear

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Just about every city in the state and most in the nation have closed stations, that's the way it is in a bad recession. The ones that haven't have raised taxes. A2 has not. Seems like this is more about finding a way to make service better than a reaction to cuts. Stations usually close when big reductions are made but instead the city is starting to rebuild staffing after tough times. I appreciate the thought being put into this.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

Insurance rates will go up as response time lags. Still probably faster than local townships.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

To budget an additional 6 fire fighters to get to the absolute minimum of 88 needed requires an additional $480,000. If city council raised the residential and non-residential soil erosion, sedimentation control and grading permit and inspection fees to the actual cost of providing the service (they are now deeply subsidized), it would almost pay for the entire $480,000 expenditure that I am advocating (see page 63 of the budget document linked from the article this morning on the budget- see The costs are currently proposed to be raised up to a range of $40 to $200 each from $35 to $165 each, but could easily be set *at* the cost of delivering the service, which is stated as being $97 to $324 each. The city could then be in a surplus and have adequate fire protection. Why not?


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

The inspection fees for the City are already insane. It's difficult to operate legally and compete with all the yahoos people hire who don't get registers and don't pull the proper permits. The staff is operating at bare bones and sometimes we have to wait weeks to get an inspection, which also hinders the process. Raising these fees will only hurt the building industry more. If you want to make that area more profitable there needs to be more reinforcement for those working illegally.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 1:23 a.m.

Nice politician double talk. User fees are not taxes?????What are they then? Who wants to pay for a soil erosion permit and add to the cost of building anyhow? If you're with the government and you take my money it's a tax. End of story............It's politicians like you who don't see how "fees" and "revenue enhancements" (taxes) like these kill jobs. You must think we're all menatlly impaired just because you use more palatable words to describe the taxation you propose. Do you know that if you want to remodel a house you pay a plan review fee, a building , electrical, plumbing, HVAc, and grading permit. There are hundreds of dollars in "fees" for safety practices madated by OSHA, liability costs are built into every piece of constrction equipment to fight the lawsuits, thousand of dollars are added to remediate lead paint, hundreds to install and maintain erosion control measure even when the "erosion" would have to travel uphill to leave the site. politicians will have the country spend collective billlions just in case someone might get hurt. Life is dangerous and unfare, get over it and get your hands out of our wallets. We don't need more "fees" we need less politicians and bureaucrats.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 9:39 p.m.

@Cici: My idea doesn't raise anyone's taxes. It would increase a user fee that few use. However enough use them so the money would add up quickly according to the budget report. Unless you apply for a permit related to soil erosion or sedimentation control, a grading permit or need to pay for a follow-up inspection after pulling any of those permits, this would not impact you at all. Generally only people who are doing construction around their home or commercial building or building a new home or commercial building would pay for those fees. Ironically, University Bank will need to apply for and pay for some of these fees in the near future as part of the recently approved expansion of our parking lot at our HQ by city council, but hey, it's all for the public good!


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:31 p.m.

How much will that raise out taxes?? We have lower home values but taxes don't seem to have been lowered to match that........ MORE TAXES????

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

If Hieftje would show ONE PER CENT as much concern for the lives and safety of Ann Arbor citizens as he does the ONE PER CENT ART TAX, the City would be better off. Buy don't hold your breath.

Linda Peck

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:18 p.m.

add in the bicycle path lobby

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

"Hieftje said he and Council Member Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, sat down with Hubbard and Powers recently to talk about the issues facing the fire department. Hieftje said both he and Teall were in favor of taking a step back on implementing the three-station model." I'm sure Teall is putting on the 'concerned mask'--until after the election for City Council. If she has enough guts to actually campaign in the Fourth Ward and not be afraid to face taxpayers and voters, she'd hear what the public wants--and it's certainly NOT gutting fire safety protection. The voters have had enough of Teall and her misplaced priorities.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

Ms. Teall ward will be protected unlike the residents of teh 5th ward...they get to be left out in the dark!


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

With all of the fires we have in Ann Arbor and all of the fire related deaths we have had who in their right mind would close fire stations? Unbelieveable..........


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 10:43 a.m.

Well, the fire chief should go back and re-exam his thinking. It is not the thing to do.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

This is the Fire Chiefs idea.......enough said