A Scio Township resident asks fellow residents to not rely on misleading information
This is a letter to the editor of the Sun Times News dated October 4 and titled: Fire Operations Ballot Questions:
From: David Read
To: Residents of Scio Township,
I am a former Township Trustee, Deputy Clerk, and Chair of the Fire Services Guidance Committee (FSGC) which was convened by the Board in 2022 to investigate the Township’s needs with respect to the Fire Department and make a recommendation(s) for improvement(s), if needed. All of the FSGC’s records can be found under the Community tab of the Township’s website: sciotownship.org. These records include our report to the Board as well as all of the statistics, run data, financial data, options, staffing needs, and recommendations of the Committee members we used to formulate our report and our recommendation. (https:// www.sciotownship.org/community/fire-services-guidance-committee ).
The literature I've seen urging a "no vote" contains misleading and incorrect information. There are a few recurring themes on these flyers as well as in the public comments at various Board meetings and the past 2 Public Hearings. I feel the need to comment on some of these statements.
- "Why not rely on the Ann Arbor Fire Department (AAFD) for assistance when needed." Answer: We already do but AAFD is stretched to the limit as well and cannot always respond to our mutual aid calls in a timely manner. In fact, Scio Township gets more mutual aid from all of the surrounding communities than it gives. We are a debtor on this balance sheet - time to stop taking advantage of our neighbors and balance the effort.
- "Let the new subdivisions pay for the new fire station" or "Tax only the areas that will be served by the new fire station." Answer: Neither of these ideas are practical and both are possibly illegal. Remember, we all live in Scio Township and we all contribute to the well-being of the community as a whole. I've lived in the Dexter portion of Scio Township for almost 30 years and have paid taxes for the Dexter School system during that time. And in all that time, I have enrolled exactly zero children in the school system. Neither have I made use of Washtenaw Intermediate School District or Washtenaw Community College but I continue to support them because 1) I have to, and 2) more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.
- "The STFD responds mostly to medical emergencies - let HVA handle them."
Answer: True. Many of STFD's calls are medical emergencies. However, most of the time, STFD arrives on scene long before Huron Valley Ambulance does. In fact, STFD has had to transport folks in dire need because HVA was unavailable. HVA is understaffed (as is STFD) and is finding it hard to recruit qualified personnel so the staffing shortage may last for a while and possibly get worse. Even though STFD is not licensed to routinely transport patients to the hospital (see #7), that restriction is lifted if paramedics (HVA) are unavailable for “a reasonable amount” of time. But, we cannot bill for this service until we are licensed.
- "Scio needs a ladder truck not a new fire station." Answer: True and False. The need for a ladder truck is true and has been for many years. With all of the big box stores and large auto dealerships in place and proposed, STFD is hard pressed to contain a fire in these buildings using only ground-based resources. In addition, a ladder truck is needed when responding to a fire in a multi-story home or an apartment building. Even if the buildings have installed sprinklers, they can only slow a fire, they do not extinguish it. However, this statement is False because, if we had a ladder truck, we would need to “raise the roof” of the Zeeb Road station (Station 1) because the doors are too small. And if we put the ladder truck in Station 1, where do we park the displaced apparatus? Station 1 is too small. Some of you may think the Township should have taken that into consideration when Station 1 was remodeled. We did but Station 1 would have needed even more renovation to accommodate the ladder truck as well as the extra resources needed to man it. Station 1 was designed to house only 4 firefighters at a time. For a fire requiring a ladder truck, it will take many more than 4 firefighters. Currently we have only enough staff to have 3 firefighters on each shift.
- "The increase is too much" Answer: Yes and No. Going from 1.35 mils to a max of 3.75 mils is a big jump - but it won’t happen all at once. There will be a gradual increase over the next ten years and the rate won’t reach the maximum until approximately 2029 or 2030, if at all. Each increase will have to be approved by the Board and will be based on the projected needs for the next fiscal year. There will be a Public Hearing each year at which the Fire Chief will have to justify an increase by presenting the needs he/she expects in the coming year and their cost. It is important to understand that the current 1.35 rate is woefully insufficient to fund the necessary resources. In 2018, when the Board contemplated increasing the fire millage, the original proposal presented to us was in the neighborhood of 1.65 - 1.75 mils but as I remember, the real need was 1.95. A couple of the Board members thought that even 1.65 was too much and decided that 1.35 would be more acceptable to the voters. And, of course, it was - by a wide majority. So, the 1.35 mils was a political decision not a decision based on facts and needs. We knew at the time that it would not provide the necessary funding to bring the staffing of Station 1 to full capacity, let alone the repairs urgently needed for Station 1, but we did it anyway. I regret not pushing for what was needed based on facts rather than going for what was acceptable based on politics. We should have trusted the voters to approve the rate that we needed.
- “The location of the new fire station will only serve the southeast section of the Township.” Answer: half-truth. The proposed location was chosen because 1) the Township already owns the land and has for many years, and 2) it will reduce the response time to the most densely populated section of the Township. Currently, it takes 10 - 12 minutes for the STFD to arrive when called to that area. Given that a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, that is a long time. It is even longer if a family member has a medical emergency. Should the ballot proposals be approved, the proposed location of the new station, once built, will cut that time to 3 - 6 minutes. When there is a call to action, especially if that call is for a fire, both stations will respond providing the 2-in-2-out resources needed to fight a fire effectively (see #7). So, in reality, both stations will be serving the Township. NOTE: Scio Township has commissioned two professional studies to analyze our fire department, one more than a decade ago and one 5 years ago. Both were consistent in stressing that, among other things, the STFD is understaffed and Scio Township needs a second fire station. And here we are years later and nothing has changed with respect to those suggestions.
- “We don’t need more firefighters, we need more medical staff and we should charge for our medical runs.” Answer: It’s complicated. We only have 9 full-time firefighters which gives us the ability to have only 3 on duty for each 24-hour shift. When the STFD is called to a fire, we usually have to call for assistance from other departments due to the “2-in-2-out” standard. That is, if firefighters need to go into a structure, there must at least 2 to go in and 2 to stay outside to render aid should the two inside get trapped or overcome by heat or smoke. With only 3 firefighters, they can only work on the outside until more help arrives. Passage of the Operating question will enable the Department to immediately start the search for three more full-time firefighters to bring Station 1 up to its intended staffing level. Regarding the billing for transportation, that can only happen if and when we can guarantee to have teams of two EMT trained firefighters available 24/7/365. At that point we can be licensed to provide Basic Life Support (BLS) and transport services. Advanced Life Support services (ALS), i.e.: the service that HVA provides, requires the staff to be paramedics. All of our firefighters are trained EMTs but we don’t have the staff to guarantee a 2-person team to be available for transport duties 24/7/365. Once we have 4 firefighters on each 24 hour shift, we can be licensed to provide BLS service, including transport, and bill for it. We currently have no paramedics on staff.
Please, do not rely on information you get from a neighbor or rumors you hear around town. Rather, come to the information sessions and talk to the firefighters. Resist the confirmation bias we are all susceptible to and ask your questions, get the facts, and don't rely on the opinions of others. It is easy to read a 1-page sheet but that doesn't give you the whole picture - just what the author wants you to know. There is so much more to this issue than can fit on a 1-page handout. You can also review the FSGC report to the Board under the Community tab at sciotownship.org.
Please, do the research. Listen to the Fire Chief, listen to the Firefighters. Come to the info sessions:
Township Meeting Hall, 827 N. Zeeb Rd.
Tuesday, October 17 at 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 21 at 10:30 am