Grant funding helps police cross-train more officers in fire services

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published November 16, 2012

HARPER WOODS — While the city isn’t legally able to start utilizing cross-trained police officers to do firefighter work in the city,  some grant funding is allowing them to beef up the numbers of cross-trained officers on staff.

That’s important because police officers are on the scene of many incidents that would necessitate knowledge of fire safety and safety equipment to keep themselves and the community safe.

The city council approved acceptance of the Competitive Grant Assistance Program during its Nov. 5 meeting.

“They should have training,” Police Chief James Burke said. “They should have equipment. They’re the first responders.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for us to receive,” Burke continued. “There is no cost to the city to take advantage of it. We’re very happy to get it.”

There are times when officers arrive first on the seen to a vehicle fire and have to take action, and they need to be prepared with the right training and equipment.

“HAZMAT is a significant threat,” council member Charles Flanagan said.

The grant will provide almost $63,000 for cross training and equipment, which will allow the department to put another ten officers through the fire academy and purchase firefighting equipment for those officers.

“I think it’s really cool that we got this grant to do this,” Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Costantino said. “I think this is something that’s great for them to have in general. We can hope that one day they’ll be able to use them in their positions.”

The city paid to send several officers for cross training a few years ago but was prevented from using them, due to a judicial ruling that doing so would be a violation of the city’s charter.

The city later tried to change the charter by placing the issue on the ballot, but it failed to garner enough votes. City officials have said that they do plan to put that change back in front of voters next year.

Cross-trained police officers have been helping the city keep up its required manpower when it comes to mutual aid. The fire department is down in numbers, due to sending officers to nearby Grosse Pointes to help fight fires. They’ve also been called to help in Harper Woods as part of mutual aid to help one of the Grosse Pointe departments on the scene.

“We can’t hire more fulltime firefighters, and we can’t hire more fulltime police officers, so we have to work together to meet that mutual-aid responsibility,” Burke said. 

Council member Vivian Sawicki made a similar comment about the benefit of this for mutual aid.

“We are not currently able to use cross-trained officers except in their capacity as mutual aid,” Sawicki said. “I certainly see a value in maintaining our relationship with our neighbors.”

Because the police department has also declined in manpower in the last year, they have lost some of their cross-trained officers. Currently, 12 out of their 25-member force are cross-trained.

Burke said they are consistently looking for grant applicants to pursue, and they have received some in the past several months for other needs in the department.

“I do want to compliment chief Burke on his initiative to fill this out on behalf of the city,” City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk said.

“The presence of that equipment with our officers only strengthens and makes them safer,” he said. “To have the equipment alone and to be trained in their use makes our officers safer and makes our community safer.”