A $1.1 million decrease in funding for the Ann Arbor Fire Department in this fiscal year has forced the city to make changes to its services, training programs and staff.

Mark Redies, the fire department’s administrative assistant chief and budget manager, said, “We have had to cut back our training a bit, but most of our costs are from the manpower,” he said, referring to the cuts made because of the city’s budget deficit. The fire department has reduced its minimum staff requirement to 15 firefighters and a battalion chief on each day. Before its recent budget problems, the department maintained a minimum staff requirement of 20 firefighters. at all times.

Redies said the initial response time has not been affected by this decrease in staff, although it diminishes the independence of the AAFD. “If there were a major fire at a large building on campus, you would still see the same initial response as before the cuts, but we would need to call in help from other townships or from firefighters off duty to deal with the fire,” he said.

The department has also had to close a station due to cuts. “We have been forced to close down Station Two, located on the corner of Stadium and Packard,” Redies said. Captain Greg Hollingsworth said the station officially closed about six months ago.

Ann Arbor Safety Services Administrator Daniel Oates also said there have been changes to the department. “We seem to be managing fairly well, mostly because we have cut 26 percent of our workload with a change in protocol.”

Oates said the new protocol means the fire department now answers only a certain set of emergency concerns. “We used to respond on vehicle accidents even if there was no evidence of injury. Now we just respond to health concerns such as difficulty breathing, unconsciousness or cardiac arrest.” Oates said this response protocol list is consistent with national standards. “We found we were going out the door when we weren’t needed,” he said.

While difficult economic times have caused the city to reduce the fire department’s funding, Oates also said the state has shortchanged the department. The state gives fire protection grants to local municipalities that must protect state properties. In Ann Arbor, these state-owned buildings are mostly affiliated with the University. “Part of the problem is because of the state’s inability to carry its fair share of protection costs,” Oates said.

Greg Bird, spokesman for the state budget office, said fire protection grants are determined based on the number of state facilities, the value of the facilities and the municipalities protecting them.

Ideally, the Ann Arbor Fire Department would have received $1.6 million from the state in fire protection grants, Bird said. Instead, the department was paid approximately $386,000 in Fiscal Year 2004, he said.

“Fire protection grants have not been fully funded for a number of years due to the challenging economy,” he said.

Bird said the state is trying to fully fund these grants. “Governor Granholm attempted to raise the funding by increasing the liquor markup, but the Legislature didn’t approve it,” he said.

Redies said new fire trucks donated by the University in the past year are a huge help to a cash-strapped department.

“We must budget very carefully the replacement of certain things that the government requires we replace periodically.”

Items such as the coats, pants, boots and breathing apparatuses for each firefighter are expensive to replace without money from the state and city.

“If we expect a certain amount and don’t receive it, we must find those funds elsewhere,” Redies said. “This is why we had to reduce our staff.”

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