By ANGELA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW — Contrary to the rumor mill, Police and Fire Chief Clifford Rosebohm doesn’t run the Fire Department by slowing down his squad car to wave as he drives by the department once a week.
“It’s frustrating and frankly, embarrassing to hear people say, ‘Hey, did you check out Facebook? Boy, you’re really getting torn apart on there,’” Rosebohm said, shaking his head.
Joined by City Manager Douglas Drysdale, Rosebohm sorted out many of the allegations currently buzzing about the Fire Department on social media.
A fire broke out Jan. 19 at Burger King, 19010 Fort St. Riverview firefighters happened to be out on two emergency medical calls at the time, necessitating a request to nearby departments for assistance. Wyandotte, Trenton and Brownstown Township responded, extinguishing the fire within 15 minutes.
The show of mutual aid ignited an online fire all its own with questions ranging from why the aid was needed and why backup firefighters were not called, to harsh appraisals of Rosebohm’s resume and Fire Department staffing policies.
“It’s mutual aid,” Rosebohm said. “No Downriver agency doesn’t ask for aid.”
Drysdale pulled reports from a sizable binder, backing up the claim.
“There was a lot said about mutual aid, but I get the report from the Mutual Conference,” he said. “The numbers of fire assists from and to each Downriver city are reported. According to the reports for the first 11 months of 2016, we were pretty even with all the other cities. Trenton provided more to us, but we also provided more than we received from some others.”
A sampling of the tallies showed eight runs provided to Trenton, 19 to Wyandotte and four to Brownstone; and 20 runs provided by Trenton, 15 by Wyandotte and 11 by Southgate.
Prior to Rosebohm becoming chief, Riverview adopted a new standard for issuing calls to firefighters on standby: rather than immediately call in backup whenever firehouse staffing dips below a certain number, standby is summoned when there is a structural fire. The Burger King fire fit this criteria Rosebohm said.
However, social media buzzed with those on the dispatch side certain a call had been sent, while those friendly with local firefighters are adamant no such call was received.
According to Rosebohm, neither side’s pants are on fire; they are both correct.
“We utilize an Active 911 system everyone is connected to,” Rosebohm said. “All the Downriver chiefs are in it, along with our firefighters. What happened that day was a dispatcher didn’t click ‘everyone’ when sending out the call. So, the alert was issued, just not to the right people. That dispatcher has been identified and retrained.”
Though a snag with dispatch is a red alert, Rosebohm points to the organic nature of running departments. Filled with people and ever evolving technology, a department’s quest for perfection involves making corrections and adjustments.
“The Fire Department has a new roof saw for vertical ventilation,” Rosebohm said. “Every day, our firefighters test every piece of equipment on the trucks. During the test, a firefighter blew the brake on the saw, from starting it improperly. Took over a month and a half of it being out for a $200 repair, because it’s specialized equipment.
“So, we make adjustments. Adjustments — now everyone knows the proper use of the saw so that mistake will, hopefully, not occur again.”
The subject of equipment is a touchy one, which sent Rosebohm digging through the binder as a red tint heats his cheeks and forehead.
“Someone posted to social media that we’re not fixing the equipment,” he said.
“Welcome to Riverview Fire Department,” the posting said. “Managed by a Police Officer who knows nothing about Fire operations, Who stops bye (sic) the Fire Department maybe 1 time per week for 5 minutes. And doesn’t care if his men have working equipment..”
Accompanying the post were three photos allegedly chronicling requests written on a maintenance board and the same board cleared of requests while the equipment remained broken. The identifiers “6” and “15” are seen on the units in question.
Rosebohm located the official inspection notice, reading from it. “On Nov 22, at 1:31 p.m., all 15 airpacks were inspected. They all passed.”
The document showed numbers 6 and 15 passed inspection.
Drysdale said, “To say we’re not concerned with the firefighters or the equipment — to borrow a phrase from the car company — that’s Job One,” Drysdale said. “Safety. Safety is always first.”
Does Anyone Work Here?
Outside of the City Manager’s office, a posting for part-time probationary firefighter adorns the bulletin board. There is more than one opening, as the department is currently short about 11 firefighters.
Rosebohm said he has posted the position far and wide, but responses are slow in coming. Riverview requirements include Fire I & II, and Hazmat certifications along with Paramedic training. Once an oral board is passed, applicants are subject to a background test and psychological testing.
“While the applicants are thin, it isn’t that we don’t get quality applicants,” Rosebohm said. “They often just don’t quite meet our criteria. Character, integrity, it’s critical and it’s the philosophy the city holds — good character, good morality.
“When performing the background check we might stop and say, ‘Was it youthful indiscretion or otherwise?’ There is wiggle room. Then they move on to the psychological exam.”
“The psychological exam is important,” Drysdale said. “As you can imagine, it can be a stressful job. Incredibly so. They can be exposed to some horrific scenes.”
A full-time fire department staffed by part-time firefighters has always been Riverview’s approach, Drysdale said. Part-time work with no health benefits might not appeal to everyone, but openings in public safety jobs seem to be growing in the United States.
“It seems our jobs aren’t as attractive as they used to be,” Drysdale said.
“The advertisements for firefighters go to every market, to LinkedIn and newspapers,” Rosebohm said. “Every market we can find. We’re trying our best to fill these slots.”
Though most firefighters in the United States are volunteers, Rosebohm found it to be a rough road.
“I had a pager when I was a firefighter with Berlin Township,” he said. “It was taxing. I mean, when it goes off at 3 in the morning, you have to hit the ground running.”
In addition to serving on the police force for over 30 years, Rosebohm holds Fire I & II, Hazmat and EMR certifications.
As with the part-time status of its firefighters, requirements for psychological evaluation and elevated standard for calls to standby, the decision to combine the posts of police chief and fire chief was made prior to Rosebohm taking the helm.
About 2010, the previous city manager took a hard look at some issues within the Fire Department. When coupled with budget constraints, the decision was made to have one chief oversee both.
“Integration with the arms of public safety is becoming more popular,” Rosebohm said. “Trenton, Southgate, Brownstown and Ecorse have done it, but only a few of the chiefs Downriver possess the certifications for fire and EMR that I do.”
Persistent rumors of Rosebohm’s lack of fire certifications or experience gives him pause for thought.
“We don’t have a ladder truck. Not my decision, either,” Rosebohm said. “Before I became chief. But Riverview didn’t use it very often, and felt they would be better served with a foam truck. So, the ladder truck was sold and foam (truck) purchased.
“Trenton has a ladder truck. We had a deal with them. We could use their ladder truck and they could put things on our cell tower. There’s a simple explanation to us not having a ladder truck, and another example of mutual aid.
“It bothers me that facts are ignored, or not investigated. But usually, when someone says they read something on Facebook — that I don’t care about the firefighters’ safety, or I’m not doing my job — I ask if they believe it, and they’ll say, ‘No. I know you. That’s not who you are.’”