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Township firefighting talks continue

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Fire Capt. Tim Slosser, left, and firefighter Dan Hibner wash a fire truck at Alpena Township's north side fire station on Tuesday. The city is providing staff to help the township through an employee shortage in its department.

ALPENA — With only two full-time firefighters working for the Alpena Township south side fire station, township trustees this week wondered what would happen if one or both of them became ill or injured.

Fire Chief Dave Robbins said that, right now, there are no concrete plans to address that possibility and his belief is that the Alpena Fire Department or other neighboring townships would help if needed.

The township contracts with the city, paying $125,000 for city firefighters to man the township’s north side station for six months while the township works to address a severe staffing shortage.

Robbins and his employee at the south station have worked 48-hour shifts, and recent efforts to hire more help have not yet been successful.

He said he has offered jobs to three applicants and two have not responded to him. The third pulled himself from consideration.

He added he does not expect the two to accept the offers, based on them not returning his messages.

The trustees voted to allow him to reach out to the remaining two candidates and to continue to advertise and recruit more applicants.

Trustee Norm Poli asked Robbins and members of the board’s special ad hoc committee addressing the fire department, what measures were in place should Robbins and/or his employee need to miss work. He said having a plan to fall back on is paramount, because it could impact public safety.

“What would happen?” Poli asked. “How are we going to take care of our citizens? You could walk out of here, slip on the ice, and it’s all over with.Then what do we do?”

Robbins said he has been so busy trying to restaff and structure the department that a plan for that scenario hasn’t been written or implemented, yet.

“The wheels have fallen off the wagon, and I’ve been running around all four corners trying to keep them on,” he said. “With all due respect, I’m not really worried about what is on the map two miles down the road. But I want the daggone wheels back on the wagon. I never, ever conceive having to make a plan for the demise and destruction of my department, which is kind of what’s happening now.”

When pushed further by Poli, Robbins said it is assumed the city would offer additional support, if needed, but he added there is nothing in writing to guarantee city employees could staff the south station.

The city is already responding to calls on the north side of the township and also assists township personnel in other areas.

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said there is a countywide mutual aid agreement that would allow other municipalities to help respond to calls. He said if the township needed the city to man the second station, however, that is a little more complicated.

“If they needed help, we would step up with mutual aid if they needed assistance,” Forbush said. “If they needed us to man the south side station, then that’s a contractual arrangement that would be up to the elected officials of both parties.”

To relieve some of the staffing stress, the township will reach out to an experienced firefighter/paramedic who is currently employed in Alcona County. The man offered his help to fill shifts when he is able to.

It is uncertain if the offer is still on the table, when he could begin, and what his compensation would be.

Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe and others on the board thanked Robbins and the fire committee for the long hours they have worked trying to find solutions to the problems the department faces.

Skibbe said an update on the hiring process, and other fire department matters, will be revisited at the next regular meeting on Jan. 25. He said if action is needed beforehand, he could also call a special meeting to address it.

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