Like it or not, change will have to happen in the Fire Department

Hamtramck firefighters may not like hearing this, but sooner or later their department is in for big changes.

At least that’s the word from State Treasurer Andy Dillon, who told city officials they have 60 days to get contract concessions from the department or face having Detroit take over the service.

The City Council has been meeting recently to find ways to cut expenses from the general budget but mostly it’s been an exercise in futility. That’s because in order to shave off $2 million to balance the budget, there is only one place to turn to: the Fire Department.

It’s come to light that up to 90 percent of the department’s runs are for ambulance service. Now that the two department’s ambulances are not running because they are old and worn out, the city has contracted with Detroit Medical Center to provide ambulance service.

The service is free of charge to the city, and an ambulance is parked inside the city limits to respond to calls within minutes.

If the city can successfully contract out that service, it begs the question: Just how many firefighters do we need?

That’s a question city officials are currently tackling. The Fire Department costs the city $5 million a year. If the city doesn’t need firefighters acting as paramedics, it makes sense that there could be a huge cut to the department.

Firefighters dispute this notion, saying the city must have a full-time professional Fire Department. And yes, in an ideal world, it would be better to maintain what we have. But the simple truth is that the city can’t afford the department as it is today.

Any change to the department is going to require the firefighters to agree to a change in their labor contract. Firefighters can keep saying no to any significant changes, but the reality is that if change doesn’t come now, sooner or later the state will appoint an emergency manager and that person will rip up their contract.

It’s a brutal world we live in these days. Hamtramck’s finances are not what they used to be. Something has to give.


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