By Ralph Echtinaw
A fire station in Riverdale may be among the results of a deal between the Alma Fire District and the townships of Pine River, Arcada, Sumner and Seville.
Alma City Manager Aeric Ripley said the Fire Board “has been working since last February to update the agreement that has been in place since the 1950s. The township partners requested additional reporting that will help them better communicate with their boards on the services of the Alma Fire District and the cost shares for each community.”
“The board has been discussing better ways to service the western portions of the district,” Ripley continued. “One of the service discussions is a fire hall somewhere west of Alma, which would house a couple of fire trucks. One of the locations talked about over a year and a half ago was property on Seaman Road (in Arcada township near the airport). Since then, there has been discussions looking further west, perhaps the Riverdale area, nothing too specific at this point.”
“This is a big step in the right direction,” said County Commissioner John Lemmermann. “It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of transparency and a lot of room for the townships to be able to make comments and steer how this thing goes.”
Merchant has reservations
The agreement will be official once Arcada Township Supervisor Doug Merchant signs it. Merchant said “nothing was changed” but will sign the document next month because the Arcada Township board voted 4-0 in favor on a day he was absent. Merchant would prefer to have a fire authority supported by a millage in which every member has an equal say in everything.
Mallory likes it
Seville Township Supervisor Tish Mallory characterized the changes as “minimal” but is pleased with the outcome. “The only thing we asked for was clarity on billing and more communication,” she said. “So yes, I am satisfied with the agreement. In the past there was only an annual meeting and now we have quarterly meetings so we can more accurately address issues as they arise.”
Beeson weighs in
Pine River Township Supervisor Kevin Beeson echoed Mallory’s comments. “Modifications were minor. We increased meetings to quarterly. We changed the legal name to reflect our common name, i.e. Alma District Fire. We simplified the way we determine each member’s annual costs to a simple percentage of total runs.”
Beeson noted that “the total cost of fire protection is going up everywhere. Most, if not all, Gratiot communities are facing tough challenges of meeting the financial needs of fire departments. Equipment costs have skyrocketed. Pine River Township will soon exceed $200,000 per year to fund township fire operations.
“Alma Fire District provides fire service to areas along Gratiot’s west side,” Beeson continued. “Riverdale, Elm Hall and Sumner are a distant reach for manpower and equipment. A house fire can double in size every 30 seconds. Response times are important to be able to save lives and property. One solution that seems to be worth considering is positioning fast response equipment closer to the incident scene. But having equipment closer is only part of a solution. To maximize the benefit, we would need to have paid on-call firefighters live close to the newly located equipment. There are no Alma Fire District personnel living in Sumner or Seville Townships.”
Straight from the document
The rejiggered Fire Board will comprise seven voting members, including the township supervisors, Alma’s city manager and two other individuals appointed by the Alma City Commission.
However, that’s not to say the townships will share ownership of the fire department. According to the agreement, “Employees in the department shall be employees of Alma.” Furthermore, “employment decisions (including hiring, assignment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension and termination) shall be made by Alma.”
Alma reserves the right to terminate firefighters “with or without cause and with or without notice.”
The Fire Board will meet four times a year on the third Monday of January, April, July, and October.
Although the fire district covers 100 percent of Sumner and Seville townships, Arcada and Pine River get partial coverage. Pine River Township is covered west of US-127. (The rest of Pine River Township is covered by the St. Louis Area Fire Authority.) The portion of Arcada that is NOT in the fire authority is bound by Washington, Alger, Tyler and State roads.
Although the Fire District will have liability insurance, Alma will be listed as the primary insured, while the townships will be merely listed as additional named insureds on the policy. However, any underinsured or uninsured loss, damage or cost is the legal responsibility of the city or township where the incident occurred.
The townships will pay a portion of the cost of running the fire department. The amount will be determined by the number of fire and rescue runs in each township. So if Pine River Township (for example) has 10 percent of the fire runs, it will be responsible for 10 percent of the Fire District’s budget.