Consolidation trend continues for Michigan fire departments

As revenue to communities continues to evaporate, employers are looking for ways to cut costs. Unfortunately, fire services are not exempt from these cuts and the growing response is consolidation.

Michigan was particularly hard hit by the recession as communities try to come to grips with the lengthily loss of revenue due to the cap on property taxes caused by Proposal A of 1994. Until 1994, property was valued at half of its market value, or State Equalized Value (SEV). Now the growth in taxable valuable is limited to the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less. Since taxable value declined when the real estate market collapsed in 2007 and inflation remains around 2 percent, some communities have lost up to 20 percent of property tax revenue. In those municipalities, it could take up to a decade to fully recover the same revenues.


One hard hit city was Pontiac, which dissolved its fire department Feb. 1, 2012 and merged with Waterford Regional Fire Department. Two Pontiac Fire Stations closed and Pontiac Fire Fighters were laid off, however the majority were hired by Waterford Township. The merger, now one year later, has resulted in $248,742 in state grant funding for the City of Pontiac to cover legal costs and fire department-related improvements and expenses. Waterford Township also received $567,500 in grant funds for fire gear, uniforms, fire hose, truck repairs, training and equipment.

Now four Macomb County municipalities are considering a $200,000 study to determine if their fire departments should consolidate. If Sterling Heights, Mt. Clemens and Clinton and Harrison townships combine services, it could be one of the largest fire department mergers in the state. The unit would serve more than 250,000 residents from Dequindre in Sterling Heights to Harrison Township along Lake St. Clair. The four departments have at least a dozen fire stations and nearly 200 fire fighters. The communities and fire unions have agreed to pay for the proposed study with the state providing a $50,000 grant. The feasibility study could be conducted as soon as 2015.

Other Michigan fire departments that have merged include Wayne and Westland and Melvindale and Dearborn. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, the state fire marshal has a list of consolidations or mergers in the following communities: Dexter Fire Authority, Brighton Fire Authority, Chelsea Fire Authority, Howell Fire Authority, White Lake Fire Authority in Whitehall, and Fabius Park Fire Authority, south of Kalamazoo. Ferndale and Hazel Park were discussing a merger, but talks have stalled for now.

An alternative to consolidation is blended departments, with on-call and full-time fire fighters. Blended departments continue to be one of the most efficient uses of tax dollars and one of the best bargains for employers. The training for paid on-call is exactly the same and they’re held to the exact same standards. The City of Novi has a blended department with a somewhat unique situation. Paid on-call fire fighters don’t just respond to fires in progress, they staff the fire department for 12-hour shifts on opposite shifts as the full-time firefighters.

Unions must consider the reality of the financial situation, but that doesn’t mean MAFF agrees with a “cookie cutter” fix. What makes sense for some communities might not make sense for others. Each city and township has different resources available to them.

If your employer is considering consolidation of services, please contact your MAFF Representative immediately. MAFF must be made aware of any possible staffing changes or consolidation talks to protect members’ rights and jobs.