WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – When it comes to fire protection and emergency services, Scio Township “will get what it pays for,” the community’s fire chief told elected officials Tuesday, June 14, while running through a series of potential upgrades that could include the construction of a second fire station in the coming years.
Fire Chief Andrew Houde said he saw the need for a new station on township land in the southeast corner of the township, near the intersection of Wagner and Liberty Roads, which he said would could reduce response times to 40% of the community and make a difference to residents’ home insurance quotes.
As it stands, the department hits its six-minute response time target 42% of the time and average response times sit at just over nine minutes, he said.
But improvements will come at a cost. The chief’s rough estimate pegs the price of building and outfitting the new station at $7-10 million over the next two to three years, with additional ongoing costs to staff it with first responders. which could mean a significant impact on residents’ tax bills.
Ultimately, township leaders have to decide what level of protection they want and how to pay for it, Houde told the township board on Tuesday during a detailed presentation on the past and future of the fire department.
A menu of staffing options he presented, assuming a new station was built, would require raising the property tax rate for fire departments by about two to four mills, depending on how far in the future the canton wants to meet its needs, according to the presentation.
This caught the attention of Clerk Jessica Flintoft, who observed that the township had work to do to act on the recommendations and chart a way forward.
“It’s going to take a lot of time and stomach to present the level of demand to voters that would be needed to fund that higher level of protection,” she said.
Township of Scio fire departments need additional firefighters, vehicle investment, chief says
The township of nearly 18,000 on the western outskirts of Ann Arbor receives more than fire services from its fire department.
Houde explained that just over half of the emergency services agency’s calls were for medical incidents, adding that it also often served a life-saving function, getting people out of car accidents or responding to reports of gas leaks and other hazardous conditions.
The township’s only fire station on Zeeb Road was built in 1978 and 1988, and after recently completed renovations, it has between 15 and 20 years left on its lifespan, Houde said.
In deciding how to move forward, township leaders could look to a 2015 strategic plan recognizing the need for a new station in the southeast area of the township. The plan’s goal was to have it operational by 2020, Houde said.
The department of the municipality is evaluated on a scale used to establish homeowners insurance ratingsscoring 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, with lower scores meaning that the department and community water supply scored higher.
But there are three significant areas in the corners of the township that automatically get the worst rating because they’re not within five miles of a fire station – something that could change if the township invests in a new one. barracks, according to the chief.
The department would also score points if it purchased a ladder truck, allowing firefighters to reach buildings up to 110 feet, outside of Scio Township’s current fleet capability, Houde said while describing a wish list of vehicle needs for the department.
Under current mileage funding — at 1.35 mills generating about $1.9 million a year — the department isn’t spending money on fleet replacement, Houde said.
Nor is it able at all times to outfit staff with four people who follow a “two-in, two-out” regulation from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, where two firefighters enter a dangerous building and two remain outside in case they need to rescue them, Houde said.
Another guidance document, a review of the department by a consultant in 2018recommended that the department increase its staff to reach this level.
“There was a time when if one of our neighbors had a big fire, they would call all the departments around us instead of Scio because we didn’t have enough resources to offer them,” Houde said, assuring to the leaders of the canton the department. is “in much better shape now” with a strong relationship with neighboring agencies.
The township has made progress on staffing recommendations from the 2018 report, he said, but still needs to go further to establish daily four-person shifts.
With those needs and the demand for a second station in mind, Houde said the township needed to establish an appropriate mileage rate to fund future operations.
He concluded his presentation with a simple message to township leaders: “We need to figure out what we want to do and how to fund it,” he said.
To view Chef Houde’s presentation, Click here.
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