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MONROE - A proposal by the city of Monroe and Frenchtown Township to study combining their respective fire departments has angered city firefighters who have been working under the terms of an expired contract.
The city and township earlier this month advertised for proposals from firms to study their respective fire departments, its operations, and personnel to come up with a plan to meld the two agencies into one unified department.
Monroe City Manager Robert Hamilton called an idea of a combined fire department to serve the two municipalities' 42,853 residents a “very preliminary” idea to save money.
“All we're asking for at this point is a proposal to do a study,” Mr. Hamilton explained. “[Frenchtown Township Supervisor] Jim [Spas] and I meet fairly regularly to talk over our mutual interests, and this is an issue we've been talking about for some time.”
But word of the study rang alarm bells with Paul Iacoangeli, president of the Monroe Fire Fighters Association, who wondered whether the timing of the proposal was more of a negotiating ploy than a serious effort to save city revenues.
“Hopefully this request is being sought for a substantive reason for the taxpayers, not simply because the Monroe Fire Fighters have been without a contract for 254 days and appears headed to arbitration,” he wrote in a letter to Mr. Hamilton last week.
“As always we stand ready to discuss any issue with the City. Without cooperation on our part the department would not have a successful advance life support transport service, or a rental housing division,” wrote Mr. Iacoangeli, who is also a Monroe County Commissioner.
The city budgets about $3.4 million annually and the township budgets $2.4 million annually to operate its 24-hour manned fire departments. The city has 39 full-time firefighters/emergency medical technicians on its department, along with a chief and a fire marshall.
For its part, the township has a complement of 19 full time firefighters, and 21 paid on-call firefighters as well as a chief, a training officer, and a fire inspector on its rolls.
The two municipalities also operate a total of six fire stations of various sizes within their borders.
“It's pooling our resources,” said Frenchtown Township Supervisor Jim Spas. “Our costs keep going up and up. We just went through a millage renewal and we added another mill on it, but the writing's on the wall. By the time that three-year [millage] is up, I'm going to have to probably go back and ask for more money.”
Mr. Spas said that considering fire trucks can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and new stations are expensive as well, it “makes some sense” to see where the two neighbors can find some economies of scale.
“I don't like to have each community duplicating everything. I can't tell you if it's going to work or not, but we're definitely interested in looking at it,” Mr. Spas said.
“My goal is to try and protect my citizens and if I can do it more efficiently by combining our services with somebody else, than I want to pursue that.”
The requests for proposals are due at the end of the month, about the same time that a much anticipated county study of ambulance service is expected to be finalized.
Monroe County administrator Charlie Londo said last week that the county has received a preliminary draft of a report from a St. Louis-based consultant hired to study the local emergency medical response system.
That $40,000 study by Gary Ludwig, of the Ludwig Group, could lay the groundwork for a county-owned ambulance service to replace the private provider contract.
Monroe City Fire Chief Bill Bert said that combining Monroe and Frenchtown's respective fire departments into one unit might make sense economically, but that Mr. Ludwig's countywide study should be expanded to cover all aspects of fire department operations.
That way, the county can devise a plan to streamline services to all residents, instead of individual municipalities trying to get along piecemeal, the chief said.
“I know the costs of us doing business continues to go up, and the ability for local government to raise funds to cover those costs don't have the ability to go up,” Chief Bert said.
“But it would have made sense for me to study the entire question of all the things we do, rather than just one aspect of what we do.”