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Posted on Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Retired Ypsilanti Fire Department chief: Regionalization is the way to remain solvent

By Katrease Stafford

Ypsilanti's recently retired fire chief Jon Ichesco has seen the department undergo many changes. As it moves forward without him, he's hopeful it will remain intact despite the city's financial struggles.


Jon Ichesco

Courtesy Kate de Fuccio

"Ideally I would like to see it stay intact at least with the levels we have, but that's not going to happen," Ichesco said. "Projecting out, I don't see us being solvent. Ypsilanti is going to struggle for at least another five years."

After 28 years of service within the Ypsilanti Fire Department, Ichesco retired Dec. 31. Capt. Max Anthouard was named interim chief Dec. 20.

Ichesco said the person who becomes the permanent chief will be tasked with figuring out where to take the department next.

"Whoever it is, they're going to have to stay positive," Ichesco said. "They're going to have to have a plan or at least a philosophical plan of what they're going to do and how they're going to do it... (The department) is just running out of resources and options."

In October, it was announced that the department's staffing levels were decreased from five per shift to four. Ichesco said at the time he was worried about how the change might impact fire services for Ypsilanti residents.

At its peak in the 1980s, the fire department had 35 firefighters; now it has 15.

"The best idea, other than having our department, is to go toward regionalization," Ichesco said. "We should be part of a bigger department to provide the level of services our citizens deserve instead of reducing them to an unacceptable level. Your borders are really artificial."

Ypsilanti is currently part of a mutual aid, box alarm system with Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township and Ann Arbor. Ichecso said the city needs to expand upon that. In December, it was announced that the city of Ann Arbor is in talks with Ann Arbor Township regarding a potential merger of their two fire departments.


The Ypsilanti Fire Department could possibly become part of a hybrid model along with the police department.

"We can't continue the box alarm system without conforming with partners if we're going to reduce staff," Ichesco said. "Right now, these are all fragile agreements."

Ichesco said more and more departments are considering combining to maintain services and reduce costs.

"I've been on my soap box about this since 2007," he said.

Ypsilanti officials are considering a hybrid model that would have separate police and fire departments with an "adequate" number of firefighters to respond to daily service demands.

This would be coupled with a larger police department that would have a certain number of cross-trained officers that have been trained and equipped to respond to major fire incidents whenever the fire department is busy or on another run.

"There was a trend to go to public safety in the early 1980s, but revenue is drying up and to me, that puts us at a tipping point," Ichesco said. "We need to look beyond the few years ahead."

Ichesco has openly voiced his opposition to the creation of a public safety department.

"To change the model we're in now dramatically and rapidly, we would implode on both sides," he said. "It would be too much for people to adapt to."

However, Ypsilanti City Manager Ralph Lange said the city has declined to explore fire collaboration with Ypsilanti Township and will instead move forward with pursuing the hybrid model.

Lange told the city is more interested in retaining control of core services like police and fire, but said partnering with Ypsilanti Township would be a consideration if the hybrid model doesn't pan out.

Despite the issues facing the city, Ichesco remains optimistic.

"There's always going to be an Ypsilanti," Ichesco said. "There's probably always going to be some sort of department. We put a lot of effort in to changing the culture and how it should be operated."

Ichesco, 66, was hired in 1984 as a firefighter and served in the department for 28 years. In 1994, he became the fire marshal, and in 2007, the fire chief. Ichesco said it was a difficult time to be chief amid the continuous loss of revenue, but his dedicated team of firefighters made it worthwhile.

"The camaraderie, the inside jokes like family, just the little things ... those are the things you remember," Ichesco said. "Those are the things I value most."

One thing Ichesco will remember is how he fought for stricter enforcement regarding dangerous buildings. On Jan. 15, 2003, the City Council passed an ordinance to enforce procedures designed to deal with unsafe and dangerous buildings.

The ordinance came after some firefighters were seriously injured in a fire in 1998 after falling through the floor of a dangerous home, Ichesco said.

"To be present in a fire scene when two of our friends are carried out a basement and not knowing one of the conditions and seeing him crushed... that led to my passion to work and get the dangerous building ordinance," Ichesco said.

The city has since adopted the ordinance that has led to dozens of unsafe and blighted homes and buildings being demolished.

Mayor Paul Schreiber said Ichesco has helped transform the city and reduce the number of blighted structures.

"Chief Icheco has always had the best interest of the city at heart," Schreiber said. "He looks out for the city and as fire marshal, he's done a good job at that. I'm sorry to see him go, but I'm glad he's able to retire and maybe he’ll get a chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor."

A roast will be held for Ichesco from 2 to 5 p.m., Jan. 20 at the Michigan Firehouse Museum located at 110 W. Cross St.

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


Megan Turf

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

I agree with those above. Ichesco has the experience and knowledge and is being completely ignored and it's a shame. I too rue the day of officers changing clothing while trapped people die and property is destroyed. What a waste. What's the cost cut off before Lange realizes this is not the way to keep the city safe? I would much rather see a combined department of FIRE FIGHTERS than of fire fighters and people who took a 6 week course on how to hold a hose. (And while i'm at it, the overtime to cover those at these classes?? Cause we ALL KNOW the YPD isn't going to class for free...) How about criminals in the city who go, "Oh, fire on the x side, that means no cops on the y side! Let's go!!!".


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

Best wishes and many thanks to Chief Ichesco. I wish we could honor him and his commitment to Ypsilanti City by removing Mr. Lange from his position. Chief Ichesco spent his career making, doing and inventing ways to provide safe and effiencient fire protection for the citizens of the city, despite economic struggles. Mr Lange plans on erasing years and years of experience, loyality, and proffesionalism that the city fire department has worked so hard to maintain, with a mockery of what real "safety of the public" represents. I dread the first .com pic's of a building fire, with 3 police officers removing their shirts to remove their vests, and removing their belts, securing their guns, tazers and keys, removing their shoes, and THEN begining to dress in full structural fire fighting gear, while 1 or 2 fire fighters struggle to extinguish the fire. And how many PO's are left to cover crime in the city? And worse yet, the products of combustion which are absolute carcinogens, and STINK, are carried with those PO's, in their hair, on their skin and clothing, the rest of the day, and back to their homes to share with their families. Hopefully, like an on duty fire fighter, they will be afforded the opportunity to shower and change clothes, because they're apparently not REALLY needed to be on patrol, evidenced by the thought they can fight fire in the first place. I'm not sure that the City Officials really understand that even a SMALL fire, maybe an hour on scene, requires another 3-4 hours of cleaning and re-servicing; truck(s), hose, radios, SCBA and mask, clothing, turn-out gear, gloves and hood, boots, tools, ladders, and most important, their bodies. Oh, and per MIOSHA and to MIOSHA standards. Lange's plan is going to deliver the final blow to a fine City that is trying so hard to get back up. Again, many, many thanks to Chief Ichesco. Good luck Ypsi.

not a billy

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 2:34 a.m.

Chief Ichesco has the best handle on the situation of anybody voicing an opinion about the future & status of YFD. Lange should be called out for listening to the police chief and others on the direction that the Fire Department needed to go. I think Lange came in with PSO (or some "hybrid version) on his horizon, looking to make this dramatic change in delivery of service and ultimately his legacy in Ypsilanti. It may very well be his legacy, and I'm not saying that in a good way. Unfortunately, the dynamics of a regional fire service will be difficult to overcome. Big Brother in Ann Arbor and Not-quite-as Big Brother in Ypsi Township would be more than willing to create their kingdom. Quiet-but-strong Younger Brothers in Pittsfield Township really can stay out of the fray, since they really don't need either YTFD or AAFD running the pretty efficient and impressive program that Pittsfield has going. PTFD has so much to offer, and should be THE leader of an eastside fire service coalition. The problem would be getting them to accept what little the other three entities bring to the table. Feeling sorry for YFD, those guys truly are a dedicated bunch suffering under the tyranny of government officals.

Jonathan Blutarsky

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 1:45 a.m.

Sounds to me like "Hybrid model" is just double speak for another layer of management and less firemen - exactly what's the difference between a two chiefs reporting to Lange or two chiefs who report a public safety director who reports to Lange? One extra manager - No? How then exactly will costs get reduced? Less firemen - that's how. Just regionalize fire protection please - countywide would be fine with me. When it makes sense cut managers not firemen - we don't need any further reductions in crews.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 10:05 p.m.

I'm thinking Ichesco might know better than Lange on this one.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

Absolutely idiotic that this man with decades of experience and knowledge is not listened to in this matter. Shame on Lange and shame on Schreiber. Just remember this when the EFM comes to Ypsi. These two people chose to thumb their nose at the opportunity to cooperate with their neighbors and refused to listen to their own experts. Ego over common sense.

Dog Guy

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

Chief Ichesco has the weight of experience, expertise, disinterest, concern, intelligence, and honesty. If the ninety-nine next-best-qualified opinions were diametrically opposed, Ichescos would tug them over the line in a jumble.