By Charles Sercombe
Last week Hamtramck Interim Fire Chief Danny Hagen got a new job.
He was promoted to be the city’s actual, permanent Fire Chief. His appointment was made by City Manager Katrina Powell and authorized by the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board, which is tasked with overseeing all city financial decisions.
We asked Hagen to introduce himself to the community.
Hagen: I grew up in Eastpointe (then East Detroit), both my parents were Police Reserve Officers; I grew up in a civic-minded household. After high school I went to Macomb Community College and obtained an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Fire Science.
Shortly thereafter, the summer of 1978, I first became united with the East Detroit Fire Department. I started first as a volunteer and in 1980 became a Full-time Firefighter/EMT.
In 1992, after a testing process, I was appointed as the department’s Fire Marshal. In the summer of 1993 I became the Acting Fire Chief and 11 months later the permanent chief — a position I held until 2010 when I retired from the department.
During those 30-plus years, I accrued over 2,500 hours of training (some of my certifications include: Fire Officer I, II, and III; Fire Inspector; Fire/Arson Investigator; Firefighter I & II Instructor; Emergency Response to Terrorism-Basic Level Instructor).
For 18 years I was the Emergency Management Liaison between the city and Macomb County, if some type of disaster occurred. I served as President for both the Macomb County Association of Fire Chiefs and the Southeast Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs; and served on various committees with the Michigan Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
This September my beloved wife Mary and I will be celebrating our 36th anniversary. We have been blessed with two wonderful children — our daughter, Lauren, is in her ninth year as a grade school teacher and our son, Nick, is a successful free-lance photographer.
In my leisure time I enjoy cooking, reading, being a percussionist with the Warren Concert Community Band, golf and rowing competitively with the Detroit Boat Club Crew.
Q: What attracted to become a firefighter?
Hagen: As a child I was always fascinated with the fire service; every Saturday I would drive with my dad to my grandmother’s house and we would see the fire station. The truck would be outside and sometimes the men would also be out washing the trucks.
As a teenager, I worked at a small local hardware store that employed off-duty firefighters. I would listen to their stories and set my goal to be one of them. Also, at that time the TV show “Emergency” (about Firefighters/Paramedics) truly influenced my life.
Q: In your role as Acting Fire Chief, what have you been doing for the past few months?
Hagen: The first thing was to learn and understand the different personalities that made up the Hamtramck Fire Department. I have a pretty good handle on the “general” personality make-up of firefighters. Yet, each fire department and unit within the department has their own uniqueness.
I worked on building trust with all members of the department, and maintained open and honest communication, along with smiling and listening to them. I looked over the apparatus, equipment and building, making all necessary repairs.
I started the process of reviewing and updating the department policies, procedures and rules. I attended work sessions and council meetings to get a better understanding of the council.
As a fitness buff, I worked with the firefighters to replace and relocate their exercise equipment to make it more “user friendly.” I have met and spoke with Mr. Tom Niczay, Hamtramck School Superintendent. I also attended the Hamtramck Drug Free Community Coalition through the Piast Institute and the Second Annual Safety Day hosted by the Yemeni American Leadership Association.
Q: What are your impressions of Hamtramck?
Hagen: This is a very nice community with friendly people; the food is great. I had the pleasure (?) and the adventure of standing in line for paczki and observing the happening in the city during Paczki Day. You folks do enjoy a good time.
Q: Are there any special challenges here?
Hagen: Trying to learn the many different cultures and at the same time not unintentionally offend anyone. Another challenge is the different firefighting style in this city due to the close proximity of houses.
Q: What would you like to do with the department? Any significant changes?
Hagen: I would like to enhance the school fire education programs. The goal is to get into the schools more, talk with the students and provide them with a better understanding of both fire behavior and fire personnel (us). The goal is to touch a young life that may later on pursue becoming a firefighter.
I will be bringing into the department experts on cultural diversity, to improve our relationships with all 26 different backgrounds. I would also like to use today’s technology and have either laptops or pads, in the engines that store all business pre-fire survey information (floor plan, exits, storage, and identifiable hazards).
When responding to a certain address, the officer would have all necessary information with him and use the proper tactics and strategies, along with knowing what the firefighters may encounter.
Q: Is there any special training you would like to see the department take on?
Hagen: We are going to continue joint training efforts with both Detroit and Highland Park Fire Departments. There will be more survival training, i.e. what to do when something goes wrong in a fire, like being trapped.
This is for both the rescuers and the one being rescued. I hope to bring in on-line firefighter training that would elevate their knowledge on all aspects of the fire service.
Q: What can the community expect from your leadership?
Hagen: Honesty, transparency, caring and compassion; everyone will be treated with respect and dignity.
Q: Down the road, federal funding will be cut off for the department. Any recommendations on where to find funding to replace that revenue source?
Hagen: This is an area I wish I had a crystal ball. Will the state increase “state-shared” revenues that have been tragically underfunded? I would recommend having a “Town Hall Meeting” with our State Rep/Senator along with local politicians to work on increasing state funds for public safety services, both fire and police.
It is my understanding the city has maximized any future millage requests. Another possible option is either joining or forming a “fire authority.”
Q: Anything you would like to add?
Hagen: I am a firm believer that knowledge is king. I had a sign hanging in my office that read “Ancora Imparo” meaning “I am still learning.” Arabic lessons, for me, are on the horizon, and I ask for patience while I’m learning. Lastly, I am truly blessed for this opportunity to return to a profession I love and to give back. Thank you.