Alpena Township Fire Project

Updated April 1, 2021

On March 25, 2021 Chief Forbush responded to a request from the Township for any and all options for working with the City going forward. The document was approved by the Acting City Manager and Mayor Waligora before being emailed to members of the Township Board and City Council. 

The entire document including cover page can be viewed here:

City-Township Fire Options 3/25/21

March 25, 2021 

Mr. Nathan Skibbe, Township Supervisor 
Charter Township of Alpena Board of Trustees
4285 US23 North 
Alpena, MI 49707

Dear Mr. Skibbe, 

Over the past three months, we have dramatically improved emergency services for the northside 
residents of Alpena Township. Staging a two-person fulltime crew with an engine and an advanced life 
support ambulance at the northside station has enabled us to reduce the time to ALS intervention by up to 5 minutes for northside residents and coordinated fire response using resources from the northside station, City headquarters and existing paid-on-call (POC) staff has been highly effective. 

Where there was once a single fire officer-EMT backed up by a second fire officer-EMT in about 10 
minutes, there are now two firefighter/officer-paramedics backed up by 6-9 on-duty firefighter/paramedics and EMTs in about five minutes. Paid on call staff are becoming more active in the north, and provides another layer of support for the community.

You asked that the City assemble all options going forward, and on the following pages, I have outlined 
three options for your consideration. All three increase fulltime staffing at your stations by 100%, 
increase the initial EMS response from BLS  to ALS, and do so at a cost less than your fire millage, requiring no subsidy from the general fund. One is intended to create a long-term partnership that serves both communities more effectively, one is merely an extension while you hire brand new firefighters in hopes that they can become proficient emergency incident commanders in less than a year, and the third is a comprehensive rebuilding of the department that would transition to all Paid on Call in eight years, with City staffing and support in the meantime.

The current trend in the fire service, and local government in general, is one of leveraging economies of 
scale through cooperation, collaboration and consolidation. These options do not consolidate, but rather 
provide a contract for services with better value for the citizens and lower cost. 

Our team brought Presque Isle from an empty building to a fully staffed, fully equipped, fully functional 
POC department in five years and did so completely within and under budget. We can do the same for 
Alpena Township.
 
Respectfully,

Bill Forbush, EFO, BAS, EMTP I/C
Fire Chief
City of Alpena



Proposed Township Contract Parameters for City Fire Services

Option 1 – City provides all services while staffing both stations with 2 personnel each

• No additional positions on AFD – reallocate locations of existing staff

• Assign 2-person ALS ambulances at Township north and south stations. Both stations are less than 
a mile from the City limits.

• Dispatch closest unit to all calls regardless of City/Township borders. This is working well with 
the temporary northside project with decreases in some cases and no increases in response times in the City or Township. More importantly, time to advanced life support intervention is reduced 
making the response more effective, and response times to our out-County constituents is improved.

• City to adopt existing Township POCs (subject to hiring processes). Maintain and build paid-on-call (POC) component and continue POC response from home to all Township and some City 
emergencies. POCs have been assigned City EMS kits and respond directly to scenes thoughout 
the community, increasing their effectiveness in proximity response.

• City will provide Community Risk Reduction services to the Township residents and businesses 
just as in the City. This includes fire inspection, plan review, safety education, smoke alarm and 
carbon monoxide detector provision and installation and post-incident follow-up to mitigate 
identified risk factors.

• City will provide comprehensive fire and EMS training services to it’s career and POC staff 
including evening training for POCs as we are currently conducting at Northside.

• Based on 2020 and 2021 YTD training records for City firefighters and the proposed deployment 
of apparatus and personnel, ISO representative Eric Abbott does not expect any degradation in ISO 
rating and finds it likely that  City and Township residents could see their ISO ratings improved, 
potentially saving citizens money on insurance rates. 

• City Union (IAFF L623) is in agreement. 

• City to have full use of and maintain all Township fire vehicles and apparatus, except one newer
ambulance with Stryker system which could be liquidated by the Township. Township to purchase 
tanker-pumper (from equipment millage) and City will plan for and purchase any needed apparatus 
going forward. All Township equipment, i.e., radios, turnout gear, hoses, nozzles, fire/rescue/EMS 
equipment will be used by the City until it’s useful life is exhausted, at which time it will be replaced 
by the City as City property.

• Township to maintain both fire station facilities, which would be used exclusively by City career 
and POC staff.

• Minimum 8 year term

• Annual cost $450,000 (less than fire operations millage). Remaining $67,000 for Township fire 
station facility maintenance and contingency in the event a future millage fails on first attempt.
After 8 years, the contingency fund could be as high as $400,000, enough to operate both stations 
for almost a year while running a new millage.

Extension Options for Current Agreement (Option 2)

A single 6-month extension is available for staffing the north station only at the same rate of $125,000. 

There is no month-to-month option and only one extension is available. 

Important Timelines

No later than June 1, 2021, the Township will provide notice to the City of its intent to

a.) request a 6-month extension to continue providing fire and advanced life support response from 
the north station. 

b.) allow the current agreement to expire effective June 30, 2021

No later than September 15, 2021, the Township will provide notice to the City of its intent to

a.) allow the extension to expire effective December 31, 2021, or

c.) enter into a 7-year agreement for fire protection and advanced life support response from both 
Township stations.


Option 3 – Rebuild the Department as Paid on Call

In 2016, the City fire department embarked on a five year quest to rebuild the failed Presque Isle 
Township Fire Department from nothing. A 501(c)(3) department had failed due to profound 
mismanagement, and all of the equipment, apparatus and assets were lost. The Township had purchased 
the fire station back from the IRS and City Fire was contracted to rebuild the department as a 
governmental operation with all of the necessary checks and balances, and provide a safety net for 
emergency calls in the meantime. 

On March 30, the PITFD will emerge as a stand-alone township department with 20 trained, paid-on-call firefighters/first responders, two engines, a 3000 gallon tender/pumper, a brush truck with skid unit and portable tools, a brand-new rescue unit, a mobile air trailer, a mobile light trailer, a mobile pump trailer and two boats – one fitted with a fire pump and one for rescue/recovery. The department is fully trained and equipped for ice rescue and has a NIMS-compliant command structure in place. Most of the equipment and apparatus was donated or purchased for pennies on the dollar through the professional relationships of AFD leadership and a generous community.

The project has been incredibly successful, and is absolute proof of AFD’s ability to turn a department around and set it back on its feet moving forward. 

Option 3 would be to do the same thing with the Alpena Township Fire Department. For eight years, we will provide provide enhanced training for the departments paid-on-call firefighters, restructure the operation into a solid paid-on-call department leveraging what is already in place, and building it up to be even better. In the meantime, we will operate advanced life support ambulances out of both stations and ensure an appropriate response and “safety net” while mentoring POC forces, preparing them to take command by the end of the contract.

The resultant department would be able to operate well within the existing fiscal constraints and be a source of community pride. Given the EMS operation provided through the county ambulance contract, and the small number of actual fires in the Township, this model may be the most appropriate for a community of this size if a joint/regional operation is not desired.

Although this model includes everything in Option 1 and a great deal more training/administrative work,  it can be contracted for $475,000/year.

NOTE: All financial apsects subject to negotiation by the appropriate elected officials. Any of these 
options would result in an interlocal agreement between the City of Alpena and Charter Township of  Alpena

AFD-medic-patch


March 15, 2021 Update below:

In the time that has elapsed since the November 10 APlex meeting, a lot of changes have taken place. Several Township fire officers have retired or resigned, creating a staffing crisis within their department. With the concurrence of Township Chief Robbins, a joint committee of Township and City leaders recommended a temporary agreement to facilitate staffing one Township station with City personnel as the Township makes provisions for adequate staffing.

Following approval of both the Township Board and City Council. The City fire department began staffing the northside station on January 1, 2021. Each day, one fire officer-paramedic or fire officer II certified acting officer and one firefighter-paramedic or firefighter-EMT is assigned to a City/County ALS ambulance at the northside station. A City engine and township tender (tanker)  are also stationed there and personnel utilize whatever apparatus is appropriate to the emergency.

Township paid-on-call personnel are dispatched simultaneously with City assets to all emergencies in the northside service area.

Additional resources respond from City headquarters as needed.

The interlocal agreement expires on July 1, 2021 unless terminated earlier, and can be extended if needed.

Remaining Township fire personnel continue to staff and operate from the southside station.

On February 1, 2021 City Council received a briefing on the first month of City operations at the northside station. The PowerPoint® presentation given by City Chief Forbush is posted here.

A copy of this document can be found here.

The following information was posted 3/15/21 in response to questions from the public. 

 

There is a great deal of misinformation circulating about the City’s involvement in the Charter Township of Alpena’s fire department situation. When fully staffed, the Township department had one fire officer on duty at each of its two stations for a total of two personnel. There is a paid-on-call contingent that responds from home to assist at fires and other emergencies. Many emergencies required both full-time people to respond, leaving any other runs to paid-on-call firefighters or mutual aid.

The Township fire department did not start providing medical first response until 2008, and in 2010 began offering non-emergency ambulance transportation. The Township has never provided emergency ambulance service, but used ambulances as first responder vehicles. The non-emergency ambulance services were suspended last year when the Township was unable to determine its cost effectiveness.

For over 40 years, all Alpena County emergency patients, including those in Alpena Township, have been treated and transported by City/County paramedics.

The Township levies 1.5 mil for fire protection and 1 mil for township operations. With six fulltime fire officers and their Chief, the department costs about $800,000/yr which is all of the fire millage and almost half of the township millage.

In November last year, the City and Township rolled out a plan to convert the department to paid-on-call only with fulltime support from City headquarters. There was significant concern expressed by many that response times would suffer with unmanned stations and insurance rates could rise. Additionally, timing for the initial plan was less than ideal.

Township officials requested a different plan that staffs the stations. The City responded with a plan that included staffing both Township stations with two personnel rather than one. City crews would provide paramedic ambulance and fire service from those stations, thereby eliminating the response time and insurance concerns. Staffing would be increased by 100% at a cost of less than the fire millage alone. Service would be enhanced and not reduced for City and Township residents alike. That plan was rejected by City Council. There was significant social media concern. At the same time, several Township fire officers resigned or retired, creating a staffing crisis.

The Township assembled an AdHoc committee to look at ways to restructure the department so that it can operate cost effectively. Township Chief Robbins was involved throughout the process and in the end, they recommended continuing and even expanding the Townships former model and expense.

With only the Township Chief and one fire officer remaining, and on the recommendation of their fire chief, Township officials reached out to the City of Alpena to provide all emergency services to the north side of the Township and staff its station for six months. The City immediately deployed two firefighter-paramedics, an advanced life support ambulance and a fire engine to the northside station and has been providing excellent service there since January 1. The Township Chief, one fire officer and two part-time personnel are staffing the Southside station while the Township and Fire Chief investigate all options going forward. Repeated attempts at hiring Township personnel have been unsuccessful.

Having two and a half months of observing City crews operating from the Township Hall station, officials asked to reopen dialog with the City. This would enable to Township to move forward with necessary road and park projects that may have been neglected due to lack of funding. The City Council will address that request tonight.  If that option is available, the Township board will weigh it against other options and ultimately make a decision.

It is critical to note that:

  • The Township approached the City for help
  • The City is not interested in “taking over”, rather they are trying to help neighbors in a bad situation.
  • All decisions by the Township Board and City Council have been made in public, open meetings. Both municipalities post minutes and video recordings of all meetings on their respective websites.

Leaders in both municipalities are always available for questions:

Township Supervisor Nathan W. Skibbe                 skibben@alpenatownship.com                

City Mayor Matthew Waligora                                    mattwa@alpena.mi.us

Twp. Fire Chief David Robbins                                     robbinsd@alpenatownship.com

City Fire Chief Bill Forbush                                           billf@alpena.mi.us





Citizen Questions from November 10, 2020
   
Special Meeting Regarding then-proposed
Fire Department Merger

    

  1. How will response times be affected?

Under the November 10 plan, initial response would have been by ATFD paid-on-call personnel responding from home on medicals or to the station for apparatus on fires. Career personnel would be simultaneously dispatched from City headquarters. If paid-on-call personnel were not immediately available, this could have extended the initial response by up to four minutes.

This was found to be unacceptable, and a later plan proposed placing full-time City personnel in both stations – working with POC firefighters when available - to mitigate any response time issue.

Currently, City paramedics are staffing the north station only on a temporary basis with one engine and one ALS ambulance. Response times are the same or better for the northside, and the northern portion of the City, Maple Ridge and Presque Isle. ATFD career staff are handling the southside station, with City/County ambulances continuing to provide ALS ambulance response.

  1. Is the proposed change based on independent, validated data, which should have taken up to five years to fully evaluate?

No. It was based on aspects of the 2007 Rehman-Robson study, and professional experience. 

  1. If the City provides fire service to the Township, will City residents be the ones who vote on the Township millage renewal?

No. The fire and fire equipment millages are voted on by Township residents only.

  1. Will the level of service to both communities be degraded by the loss of ATFD full-time personnel?

We don’t believe so. The City fire department is staffed with 8-9 full-time firefighter-paramedics per day and an additional three command staff weekdays on on-call. Under the November plan, that staffing would have remained constant, therefore there should be enough staff to handle any initial emergency with off-duty personnel and Township paid-on-call staff to supplement the initial deployment.

           5Why was this idea brought forth so soon after the election?

Discussions began in July and the concept was not yet fully developed and ready for critical review until fall. In retrospect, it would have been advisable to broach the subject sooner, despite the large number of unknowns.

  1. What is the plan for future cost increases?

Operating costs for both communities will inevitably rise over time. In that the November 10 plan has been discontinued, this question is no longer relevant, except that any new plan would have to account for such costs.

  1. Was the Township Board aware of the fire budget shortfall before the election?

Yes, and in asking former Trustee Matt Dunckel (Trustee since 2008) the budget shortfall has existed before his first year on the Board of Trustees.

  1. What is the relationship between the fire millage funding and the water litigation?

There is absolutely zero relation between the fire department and the water litigation.

  1. Why wasn’t Chief Robbins or the paid-on-call firefighters involved in developing the November 10 plan?

Because it was under development and there was concern that strong opposition in the development phase could thwart the opportunity to look at all options. Ultimately, the decision to implement any plan would require the concurrence of the City Council and Township Board, so all facts would come out and all concerns addressed before any change was made.

            10. What if no paid-on-call firefighters respond?

If the City and Township end up working together to provide fire services, both will work to rebuild and increase paid-on-call capacity. Primary staffing will be on-duty career personnel, augmented by paid-on-call and off-duty staff.

The November 10 proposal was dependent upon active participation of POC personnel. This plan was not accepted by the City Council; thus, the issue is moot.

 


On February 1, 2021 City Council received a briefing on the first month of City operations at the northside station. The PowerPoint® presentation given by City Chief Forbush is posted here.

A copy of this document can be found here.