Lincoln Twp. needs a full-time fire chief, consultants say

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — Lincoln Township needs to hire a full-time fire chief, according to a consultant’s report.

Trustees were given the report last week by consultants who were hired in April to conduct a study on whether a fire chief was needed. The study, which cost the township $9,500, showed a full-time fire chief was needed based on the township’s size and the services it’s been lacking.

Supervisor Dick Stauffer said the report will be reviewed by the township’s fire board, which meets July 26.

“There’s compelling evidence for a full-time chief,” Stauffer said. “The fire board will make recommendations to consider a full-time chief. Who it will be is open to question. If it were put before the board, my vote would be yes.”

The report highlighted a few observations and recommendations the consultants made in the days they visited the township to interview firefighters, board members and residents.

Among the suggestions were for the township to hire a fire chief on a full-time basis before the “demand becomes overwhelming.” But the report pointed out the current levels of service are still acceptable and can continue to work effectively.

“There is no existential urgency. Nonetheless, given the growth of the community and other factors it is inevitable, we believe, that a full‐time chief will be needed in Lincoln Charter Township,” the study stated. “Piecemeal approaches to providing key services, such as part‐time fire inspectors, are much less effective than hiring an effective full‐time chief.”

Stauffer said there is no timeline for hiring a full-time fire chief. He said if the township hired a search firm, it might take up to two months.

The township’s current fire department was called “a well-run volunteer operation” in the report, and could continue to effectively serve the community.

However, the report said the fire department does not offer fire inspections, coordination with the township building inspector, fire pre-plan training or community education programs. According to the report, these duties could be coordinated by or assigned to a full-time fire chief.

The report also recommended either granting the volunteer fire board decision-making power over personnel, or disbanding it altogether.

“Whether or not a full- or part‐time chief position is selected, it is important to have clean lines of accountability and communication,” the study stated. “In spite of the good will of the members of the volunteer, advisory fire board, accountability of the chief’s position cannot be achieved under the current structure.”

Since the fire board does not have the authority of hiring or firing anyone, Stauffer said the township board will wait for a recommendation before making a decision on the fire chief position.

“We’re looking for recommendations from the fire board based on the observations of the consultants,” Stauffer said. “However, we don’t know where to go from there just yet.”

The consultants, who have experience with fire departments and municipalities, said they have not evaluated a fire chief’s position in the past. However, they were hired by Hagar Township, Coloma Township and Coloma to determine their need for a full-time fire chief.

The position’s base salary with benefits is expected to cost the township about $83,000. The salary of a full-time fire chief was added to the township’s 2016-17 budget in the event a fire chief was hired by the end of the fiscal year.

While the township has never had a full-time fire chief, the position has been discussed among several boards and committees for more than a decade.

The most recent occasion came when the township put two millage requests for the fire department to a vote in 2013. The millage request to pay for operational expenses that would have paid for a full-time position was narrowly rejected by voters.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 19, 2016)

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