Fire crews await reopening of two stations

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — The city and its fire department made a difficult decision in October 2011 to merge operations into the central station house on Goddard Road.

The north and south stations were not “closed,” Fire Chief Bob Tompos said last year. They were “shuttered” as a temporary measure sparked by losing staff to layoffs.

At the time, the bigger priority was regaining the manpower after the roster of 59 fell to 36.

The manpower struggle continued, becoming a political fireball as Tompos struggled with having as few as five firefighters on duty during a 24-hour period, “eight on a good day,” Tompos said.

Last month the city and fire union cleared the way for the department to accept a Federal Emergency Management Administration staffing grant worth more than $8 million. A few more former firefighters are expected to return to duty, and Tompos said they now have 14 or 15 working firefighters each day.

The stations that were “shuttered” a year ago remain closed. Tompos said that before reopening or restaffing those houses, fire officials and Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand want to make sure the emergency alert — 911 — system is properly functioning, an oversight neglected when the stations were operational.

“Those stations were never really compliant with the emergency communications systems,” Tompos said. “Rather than go back and repeat the sins of the past the mayor’s office would like to have those done properly.”

Bids are being accepted to install the necessary equipment, and Tompos said he would like to have the stations back open within a few weeks, if possible.

Lamarand indicated during the Sept. 18 city council meeting that no date has been set for reopening the stations, which will first be in compliance with federal requirements.

Under the old 911 system, calls went first to the police station for relay via landline to the fire station. Tompos said there was a chance of losing a call, and that waiting for an updated system was the safest option.

“You don’t want to lose a call,” Tompos said. “It’s better to have a little longer response and not miss the call.”

With or without the reopened stations, Tompos said the department is free to move forward with proper training, emergency preparedness and getting ready for winter rather than wondering whether or not additional layoffs were in store.

“Instead of just treading water we can get to the point where we do some training,” Tompos said. “Cold weather is coming and we’ll see an uptick in fires, and we better be prepared.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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