Firefighters picket over plan to close department

WATERFORD TOWNSHIP, MI &#8211 Pontiac firefighters are picketing outside Waterford Township’s town hall and fire department today in opposition to a proposal to shutter the Pontiac Fire Department and contract services with Waterford Township.

A portion of Pontiac’s 57 firefighters are expected to walk a picket line through 7 p.m. today, said firefighter and paramedic Kenneth Estell, trustee with Pontiac Firefighters Union Local 376.

He said department officials have been meeting with Pontiac Emergency Financial Manager Louis Schimmel, offering budget proposals that match the savings needed by the city.

“We’re going to fight this to the end,” Estell said today. “We love our jobs. We love our citizens. There’s a lot of tradition in this department. And we’re saving the citizens money. And when it comes to the safety of the citizens, we provide a good service.”

But closing the department is the only way to shave $3 million from the fire department’s $9.2 annual budget, Schimmel said this morning.

“It’s the only option — we save $3 million,” Schimmel said, adding the changes would take effect in January. “There is no way in the world we can save $3 million by keeping our own fire department. They didn’t even come close to a million dollars, let alone $3 million. And we are running out of cash.”

Schimmel said firefighters have until Dec. 9 to approve a proposal that would offer early retirement to 18 firefighters, bonuses to others and the opportunity to be hired by Waterford Township. Whether contracting or not, Schimmel said two of the city’s five fire stations are expected to be closed.

He said contracting services would lower fire department staffing levels in Pontiac, but all medical runs would be handled by a private ambulance company. He said the move would not affect costs to citizens, who are already charged by the department for ambulance runs whether the city or a private company shows up during an emergency.

“I think it’ll be better than it is now because we’re going to have not only the same coverage in terms of fire, but we’re going to have an outside contractor, Star Ambulance, provide EMS services,” Schimmel said. He added that 87% of the department’s calls are for medical runs. “So we‘re expanding the amount of personnel through that method.”

From The Detroit Free Press.