An initial, exploratory meeting to discuss a potential merger between two fire authorities went very well and more meetings will be taking place in the coming months.
The Brighton Area Fire Authority serves residents in Brighton city and township as well as Genoa Township. The Hartland-Deerfield Fire Authority provides coverage to those two municipalities as well as fire protection by contract to part of Tyrone Township. Last Friday the two fire chiefs, the supervisors and managers from each of the townships and the city mayor held an exploratory meeting to discuss what it could look like if the authorities came together.
Brighton Fire Chief Mike O’Brian says their focus was trying to make sure that as a fire service they can continue to meet the long time needs of the community and explore if there is a better way to utilize limited resources and meet demands – stressing it’s all about providing the best customer service they can to those who call 911. O’Brian says the two organizations are very similar in how they’re set up and their structures, noting there’s a common culture that is very similar and it would just make sense. He says there are also some shared borders that in the long run as fire stations are added and response boundaries are drawn or re-drawn, it makes a lot of sense in making sure the areas have the right coverage. O’Brian tells WHMI that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be discussions with other communities down the road but the politics, the culture and makeup of the organizations make it a logical fit to start here.
O’Brian says over the years there’s been on and off discussion about further consolidation efforts or making a larger regional fire authority. He’s excited to look at the opportunity and says it’s always good practice to make sure they’re doing everything they’re can to be good stewards of financial resources and provide the best service they can so this is a good way to make sure they’re staying sharp and see what’s out there. O’Brian says if they can get more firefighters on duty and respond faster to runs, that’s what it’s all about and if communities are willing to come together to do that it could be really powerful. He says they have really great staff working in both organizations so they want to see if this can work and hopefully end up making a very robust organization to meet the needs of citizens for a long time to come. O’Brian commented that this is a “big ask” and from a fire authority standpoint – two authorities coming together really hasn’t happened within the state of Michigan so it is a big ask and they want to do what’s best for their communities. He says most of the communities will have a local discussion on the topic and provide feedback to their appropriate fire authority and then hold a subsequent meeting to present findings and see what feedback they got from their communities.
Hartland-Deerfield Fire Chief Adam Carroll agreed the meeting was very positive noting they’ve had past discussions with departments around the county. He says it was a good conversation and they laid out a lot of the things it would take so as to paint as clear of a picture as possible as to what a merger would do or wouldn’t do for each fire authority as well as a collective group and subjectively measure that. Carroll noted the organizations are similar, which helps, and they don’t have a lot of differences – at least that they’ve found so far. He says the overarching concept is they’re always looking for opportunities to improve the level of service they’re providing with the resources they’re given and feels it’s certainly prudent to run through the details and see if it makes sense or not. Carroll told WHMI regionalization has been contemplated in years past but this is the most recent addition and the timing is good now and it’s a good opportunity to look at merging to see if it could benefit the residents and communities. While meetings will continue, Carroll cautioned that it’s generally a pretty slow process because it takes time to put all of the information together, analyze it and then compare it and have conversations with interested parties. He says they have a lot of work ahead of them in the coming weeks and months and it’s kind of a big undertaking. He says they’re always looking for ways to improve and feels it’s in their best interest to look at the prospect of a merger objectively. That means examining benefits and challenges – notably if there are advantages to be had for sustainability, cost control, improved response times and the service level they provide.
Chief Carroll and Chief O’Brian will get together next and meetings will continue to outline the process, steps to take, topics to cover and information to compile. (JM)