Tempers flare over slow fire department hiring

FLINT TWP. —– Despite ongoing criticism from outspoken residents, the township board is taking its time about hiring enough firefighters for round-the-clock staffing at fire station No.1, G-5331 Reuben Street.

Noting that 24-7 staffing at Station One was one of the pledges made for the Public Safety Millage passed by voters in November 2014, angry residents have voiced their displeasure to the board many times over the past 17 months since the millage passed. Tempers flared again at the March 21 board meeting, leading to Township Supervisor Karyn Miller ejecting one critic from the room.

The subject of hiring was first raised during public comment by a firefighter who wanted to know why no full-time firefighters have been hired though the Public Service Commission approved the hiring eligibility list in December. He also asked when a new fire chief would be named. Former Chief John Ringwelski retired about a year ago.

Trustee Frank Kasle posed the hiring question again during a board discussion about buying a new fire truck. Kasle also asked why the board had not taken action on hiring from the Civil Service list. He directed his questions to assistant fire chief Mike Burkley, who has been running the fire department since Ringwelski retired.

Miller responded for Burkley saying that he is new to his duties and that Kasle was putting him on the spot.

Kasle called for a vote after learning that the board could initiate a request for the hiring list from the Civil Service Commission, instead of waiting for Burkley to request it. But Kasle’s motion to request the list was defeated 5-2, to the displeasure of some critics in the audience.

Trustee George Menoutes, who voted in favor of requesting the hiring list, also asked what is taking so long butt did not receive an answer.

Objections voiced by resident David Huffman led to Miller having him removed from the room, after he refused to be silent during the board’s discussion.

Miller said that she is in ongoing contract negotiation with firefighters and headed for mediation later in the week. That includes looking at changes in hiring policies.

She also stressed that, contrary to constant assertions, Station One is not closed. Burkley and a clerical worker are there during the day Monday through Thursday and the building also is occasionally staffed overnight.

She noted that Station 2 on Flushing Road and Station 3 on Bristol Road both are manned around-the-clock compared to some neighboring communities who do not staff their stations 24-7. Similar to Flint Township, they have on-call firefighters who report when needed.

Burkley said the department currently has nine full-time firefighters including himself. The goal is to hire three more. The department also has about 20 on-call firefighters.

Miller said the Civil Service Commission is not scheduled to meet again until April 26 at 4 p.m., which would be the earliest date a request for the hiring list could be heard. The township board is scheduled to meet twice more before then.

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