Saginaw Fire Department looking at transformation with loss of SAFER Grant

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SAGINAW (WJRT) (10/3/2017) - The loss of a SAFER Grant from the federal government is bringing a total transformation to the Saginaw Fire Department.

The city had sought more than $2 million to pay salaries for firefighters the city ordinarily couldn't afford. However, the loss of the grant means 13 of 51 firefighters will lose their jobs and one fire station will close.

To help fill the gap in service, Saginaw is mulling a transformation to a public safety department model, in which police officers and firefighters are cross-trained to do both jobs.

"It's a model that could save the taxpayers some money, get more personnel of a combination of services, of police and fire," said Doug Wortley, who is president of the Saginaw Police Officers Association.

He believes now could be the time for Saginaw to seriously consider the change. Bay City, Kalamazoo, Monroe and dozens of other towns and townships in Michigan have cross-trained public safety departments.

Saginaw Fire Chief Chris Van Loo said the upcoming layoffs will leave the department with 38 personnel, about a third of its manpower of 100 from 1990 when he started. He expects to have the staff changes completed by the end of January.

However, Van Loo isn't convinced the public safety model would work in Saginaw and believes that is not the direction the city will go in right now. He plans on disclosing which fire station will close at next Monday's city council meeting.

"There will be impact on response times in some portions of the city," Van Loo said.

Regina Lindsay is hoping the Hess Street fire station on Saginaw's east side will remain open after the cuts. She lives right across the street.

"If they close one, let them close it on the other side of town," Lindsay said.

She understands its possible the fire station next door might be the one that could close, but she says before that happens, she would like to see the city look at all possibilities -- including teaming up the fire and police departments.

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