Mutual aid between Muskegon County fire departments not so mutual

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jan 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-16 17:46:51-05

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The debate on how to safely fight fires continues in Muskegon County. After FOX 17’s story earlier this month, Muskegon Township officials responded to the Muskegon City Manager’s comments saying mutual aid is not so mutual anymore.

“What’s the solution to the problem?” David Kieft, Muskegon Township Supervisor, asked FOX 17 Tuesday. “You don’t mind helping your neighbor on a temporary basis, but when it continues to go on, obviously it’s a problem.” 

Kieft and Muskegon Township Fire Chief David Glotzbach say they are here to help their neighbors, but mutual aid between their firefighters and the city's became lopsided.

“Firefighters, we don’t like to tell people no, we want to respond and we want to be there,” said Glotzbach. “There comes a limit where we just can’t be everywhere for everyone, and that’s part of this dilemma that we’re all facing.”

The day after FOX 17’s story aired showing the ideological rift between Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson and Muskegon Professional Firefighters Union President Chris Drake, Kieft wrote a letter to Peterson. Kieft wrote he’s “disheartened” hearing Peterson say Muskegon has enough firefighters, after cutting $900,000 from their fire department’s budget last summer, yet calling more mutual aid, including from Muskegon Township.

Kieft wrote in part:

“These additional calls are placing a burden on our fire department as our resources are only adequate to provide occasional, temporary assistance to other jurisdictions. In addition, many of these calls are of the ordinary, routine variety that a local fire department should be able to cover with their own resources.”

  • Read Kieft's letter to Peterson here

Peterson declined comment Tuesday, but tells FOX 17 he will release further information in the coming days.

“Now we’re giving a lot more response and a lot more aid to the city of Muskegon than they’re giving to us,” said Kieft.

And the numbers show it: according to township data from 2016 and 2017, Muskegon Township Fire Department helped the Muskegon City Fire Department respond to 16 and then 27 calls respectively, including calls they consider to be non-emergency, like downed wires. However, the township received help from the city five times in 2016, then 12 times last year.

“For us, one of the biggest heartburns is the fact that [Muskegon] made this decision to go whatever direction they’re going and reduce their staffing, and automatically assumed the neighbors would just help out,” said Glotzbach. “And all of us are about helping our neighbors but a little heads up and understanding that we have limited resources is part of that.”

When fully staffed, the township has six firefighters who respond to about 2,200 calls annually, while the city has nine firefighters responding to about 4,900 calls per year. Kieft and Glotzbach say they hope to have an open honest dialogue with Muskegon City officials to keep mutual aid from becoming a ripple effect that leaves them and taxpayers empty-handed.

“If they call us because they need help at a fire, we’re going to go,” reinforced Glotzbach. “Again we’re going to do our best to help them every time we can, but our resources aren’t unlimited either.”

While the city of Muskegon offered to reimburse the township for their mutual aid, Kieft says they are not asking for money but a long-term solution.

FOX 17 also reached out to several neighboring departments. The only fire chief immediately available for comment was Muskegon Heights Fire Chief Christopher Dean, who runs a smaller department and gave different perspective.

“Everyone in Muskegon County depends on mutual aid,” said Dean. “It’s kind of a way of life that we rely on each other to help each other.”