Ballot proposal could add firefighter/paramedics

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published August 13, 2014

ROCHESTER HILLS — A Nov. 4 ballot proposal may ask voters to approve or deny additions and changes to the city’s Fire Department staff.

City officials propose adding more full-time firefighter/paramedics to the Fire Department’s current staff and changing paid-on-call staffers to part-time status.

“Fire service has changed,” Rochester Hills Fire Chief Sean Canto said at a July 28 public hearing. “When my father started in fire service, that was all you did: you responded to fires. The number of actual fires has gone down and the number of other incidences has gone up.”

The Rochester Hills Fire Department is currently composed of 24 full-time firefighter/paramedics and 65 paid-on-call firefighter emergency medical technicians.

“We are a diverse, emergency response agency,” Canto said. “The last time we added staff was in 2006.” In 2013, the department responded to 6,152 incidents, of which 4,504 were medical emergencies, he said.

“There is a shift to emergency calls from fire calls,” said Dale Hetrick, chair of the Public Safety and Infrastructure Technical Review Committee, who gave ballot proposal recommendations to the City Council.

“The city is changing,” Hetrick said. “Our population is flattening out with a shift in demographics. We have more seniors. The (Older Person’s Commission) is a great thing, and it attracts people. The Fire Department gets one call per bed per year per nursing and assisted living beds.”

Currently, 207 new nursing assisted living beds are in planning or construction stage in the city, Hetrick said. Most cardiac arrests occur during the day. Paid-on-call firefighter/paramedics usually have day jobs, leaving the stations understaffed. Scheduled part-timers could provide 24/7 coverage for emergency calls.

“The paid-on-call model is unsustainable,” Canto said.

Additional Fire Department members could be paid for with funding available through a Headlee override, a vote by residents to return millage to a city, counteracting the effects of the Headlee rollback.

“The Headlee override is really complicated,” Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said. “It is not intuitive. It is a complicated proposal. Ultimately, it comes down to residents of our community, making a decision at the kitchen table about ‘how much am I willing to pay for these guys to come and save me?’”

A vote for additional millage could also be included on the ballot proposal. The Rochester City Council will approve language for the proposal at the 7 p.m. Aug. 11 meeting at Rochester Hills City Hall on Avon Road.

“Public safety is No. 1,” Rochester Hills City Council President Greg Hooper said. “If you don’t have public safety, what do you have for a community?”