Some residents heated about understaffed fire station

FLINT TWP. — At least two outspoken residents are not happy that township fire Station One at G-5331 Reuben Street still is not being manned around the clock although more than a year has passed since voters approved a $3 million Public Safety millage for improved police and fire protection. Tempers flared at two recent township board meetings when the subject was raised.

The brouhaha ignited seven months ago after a May 23 house fire on Darby Street off Dye Road raised questions about response time. At the June 1 township board meeting, resident Dave Huffman noted that the responding fire truck came from Station Two on Bristol Road, which is staffed 24 hours, although fire Station One is located about one mile from the Darby fire. The township also has a fire station on Flushing Road.

Township Supervisor Miller said the response time had been proper and suggested that Huffman talk privately with Assistant Fire Chief Mike Burkley, if he had more questions. Burkley has served unofficially as the acting fire chief since former Fire Chief John Ringwelski retired in April.

During public comment at the June 15 township board meeting, resident Gerald Roberts raised the issue again. He asserted that mutual-aid trucks from Flushing and Swartz Creek arrived at the Darby fire ahead of the township truck.

At the July 6 meeting, Assistant Chief Burkley gave a full accounting of the Darby Street response time. He said the call for help came at1:30 p.m., the township fire crew was on site at 1:38 p.m. and that mutual-aid was requested at 1:48 p.m. Swartz Creek arrived in minutes because its crew was already out on a previous call. Flushing firefighters arrived at 2 p.m.

Not satisfied with that explanation, Roberts has continued at subsequent board meetings to criticize fire response time and understaffing at Station One.

At the November 16 board meeting, he cited two fatal fires located closer to understaffed fire Station One and the potential danger of having the truck coming from Station Two.

Clerk Kim Courts lost patience and told Roberts that his accusations were not true. She noted that Burkley had given a full accounting of Darby Street response time.

That exchange ended with Roberts visibly upset when his allotted three-minute comment time ended. He commented again at the next board meeting.

“At the last meeting, I was basically called a liar by one of our constituents up there,’’ he said. He said he felt “ambushed” when leaving the podium and not being allowed time to defend himself.

“My main point is we are citizens that passed a millage for $3 million for police and fire protection,” he said.

“We want Station One manned.” Roberts disclosed a timeline of the Darby Street fire he obtained through a Freedom of Information request with the 911 Consortium (Central Dispatch).

He also said he talked to the Swartz Creek fire chief and was told the Swartz Creek truck was first to put a hose on the fire.

Roberts was cut off again when his allotted comment time ended. Supervisor MIller said she would have Assistant Fire Chief Burkley give a report again at an upcoming meeting, if Roberts requests it.

Resident Huffman also commented about how long it is taking to fully staff Station One. He also questioned why a new fire chief has not been named in the seven months since Ringwelski retired.

Previously the township went about two years without a fire chief before naming Ringwelski.

Supervisor Miller asked Assistant Chief Burkley for an update on staffing plans. Burkley said the hiring process is well underway but takes time. Candidates for the full-time openings have passed a battery of pre-tests including physical agility. The eligibility list now must be approved by the Civil Service Commission. Burkley said he hopes to get the new hires in place by the first of the year.

Currently the department has nine full time firefighters and 18 on-call, he said. Fire stations two and three are manned 24 hours by full time staff. Fire Station One is manned about eight hours during the day and occasionally overnight.

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