AP, Melvindale fire departments may merge

By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers

Allen Park and Melvindale may share firefighting services.

Representatives from both cities and their fire departments met to discuss the possibility of a fire authority between the two cities in a meeting two weeks ago, Allen Park city officials said Tuesday.

The move would create a fire authority, similar to ones in Howell and Brighton, under which both departments would retain their fire stations but serve under one chief and deputy chief.

“We want to maintain or increase services to citizens of both cities but at the same time save money,” Allen Park Fire Chief Douglas LaFond said. “That’s kind of the whole point.”

LaFond said the biggest cost savings would come from the reduction in overhead costs and overtime, as the two departments could send firefighters to either station when it is short staffed and share training costs. He said he expects the merger would not create layoffs, and any reductions necessary would be made through attrition.

LaFond said sharing services also would help the cities’ existing mutual aid agreement, by reducing response times when the departments work together.

“The way we currently operate, if we call Melvindale, they are going to send their team with a (firefighter),” LaFond said. “Now he’s got to interface with my (firefighter), who is in charge of the scene, which all takes time. This would bring everything under one command.”

Melvindale Fire Chief Dan Wilhelm said Thursday the merger would help increase response time, as his fire department could respond to calls from the highly trafficked Fairlane Green shopping center in Allen Park, just blocks from the Melvindale Fire Station but across the city from Allen Park’s station.

He said though the discussions are on the “ground level,” the move would be a great way for both departments to save money and keep up with trends in the industry.

“I truly believe the merging of the departments is a thing of the future,” Wilhelm said. “Better to be the driving force behind this than on the tail end.”

Allen Park City Administrator John Zech, who introduced the proposal at Allen Park’s city council meeting Tuesday, said maintaining full staffs at each fire station would ensure that response time did not suffer.

He also said firefighters from each department would work under the same contract, but the arrangement would not obligate either department to cover any debt incurred by the other.

“Their debt is their debt, and our debt is our debt,” Zech said. “We would keep that separate.”

Contracts for Allen Park firefighters end June 2013, while Melvindale firefighters have been working a month-to-month basis since their contract expired in 2009. Existing contracts must be honored before the authority could be created.

“This would have to be negotiations with both of these bargaining groups to work these very serious issues through and to come to a good result for both communities,” Zech said.