Madison Heights Fire Department grows younger with new hires

Young hires replace older retirees, but staffing levels still not optimal

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 16, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — While the number of fire runs and medical runs didn’t change much between 2014 and 2015, one thing that did change for the Madison Heights Fire Department was the youthfulness of its staff.

There were five new hires in 2014 and 2015. Another two have been hired this year. And the plan is to hire two more in the next few weeks.

Each of these nine hires are replacing firefighters who have retired. And there are plans for another four hires by the end of 2016.

“We’ve had a big turnover in staffing, and it’s continuing,” said Madison Heights Fire Chief Greg Lelito. “It’s a big change. The gentlemen who are retiring are a bit older, and the firefighters we’re bringing in are of course younger. The majority of the firefighters coming in have experience from other places. They have a lot of new ideas. It’s exciting.”

That being said, the current staffing at the Madison Heights Fire Department still falls short of what’s considered optimal by the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA recommends around 14 firefighters on scene for a structure fire. The minimum manning at the Madison Heights Fire Department is six firefighters per shift, and they average around six to seven. With automatic mutual aid from Hazel Park and Ferndale, they come close to the NFPA’s recommended number, but this varies depending on the availability of aid partners.

“The NFPA’s benchmark is a very high standard and a hard one to meet, but it’s one that every department should strive for,” Lelito said. “But the way the city’s financials are at the moment, we just can’t afford to add staffing right now.”

Some recent updates to the department are making it easier to do the job, however. The city has replaced the department’s entire inventory of hoses, allowing for better water flow when putting out a fire. In addition, last year saw a new rescue ambulance put into service. The new ambulance features a state-of-the-art stretcher with a lift system so firefighters don’t have to lift the patient.

“Not too many departments have it,” Lelito said. “We’re hoping in the next budget year we’ll be able to retrofit our Station 2 ambulance with the same device. The key thing is continuous lifting causes back strain and injuries. This basically eliminates those kinds of injuries.”

In terms of activity between 2014 and 2015, the numbers were relatively unchanged. There were fewer structure fires in 2015 (67 incidents, down from 78). There were 3,244 medical calls — only five less than in 2014. The city provided more mutual aid (80 incidents, up from 61) and needed to call for less aid themselves (88 times, down from 110). Overall calls for service totaled 4,235 in 2015, down from 4,296 in 2014.

Lelito said that mutual aid arrangements, which include both ambulance and fire calls, have been increasingly important to fire departments across the region.

“If we did not have that mutual aid, it would be difficult for us to maintain our current level of service,” Lelito said. “When it comes to EMS, we rely heavily on Royal Oak when both of our units are out at the hospital. Mutual aid has increased tremendously over the past five years. I think it has to do with run volumes increasing (on the whole). Cities cannot handle that with their current equipment and staff.”

The high number of medical runs can be attributed to an aging population, Lelito said. As for structure fires, no one cause stood out to Fire Marshal Shawn Knight. But he has noticed another worrying trend.

“The biggest consistency I see is a lot of homes without smoke detectors,” Knight said. “I can say nine out of 10 homes I go to don’t have a smoke detector, or if they do, there are no batteries in it. That’s the majority of the really bad fires.”

Knight reminded residents that smoke detectors are available for free at the Fire Department.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to have working smoke detectors,” Knight said.

The Madison Heights Fire Department is located at 31313 Brush St. in Madison Heights, in the back of Civic Center Plaza on West 13 Mile near John R. For more information, call (248) 588-3605