Officials from Wyandotte and Southgate are in talks about consolidating the Fire Departments of both cities into one, which would be called Wy-South Fire Department, according to documents submitted to the state of Michigan.
In a letter dated Jan. 31 and signed by Wyandotte City Administrator Todd Drysdale, the plan is said to save the cities between $100,000 and $500,000 while providing "faster service response, increased manpower at fire incidents, coordinated planning and equipment procurement."
The cost savings would come from "decreased operational costs, less capital investment required (and) reduced administrative costs," according to Drysdale's letter.
Specifics of the plan haven't yet been finalized. It's unknown whether the current stations in both cities would remain as is.
"We aren’t even that far in our discussions," Drysdale said. "The first thing we need to do is see if we can replicate the service model that Wyandotte has in Southgate."
Specifically, he said, Wyandotte provides advanced life support and transporting services, where Southgate does not.
"We certainly don’t want to see any diminishment of the quality of service that we offer to our residents," Drysdale said. "We have a well-trained, capable and respectable Fire Department here in Wyandotte. We wouldn’t make any decisions that would harm the service available to our residents."
While there are significant anticipated cost savings, Drysdale said, those will be realized by efficiencies, not by layoffs.
"We don’t anticipate any layoffs," he said. "By having a combined administrative staff, as well as access to more employees, we can envision that there may be reductions in overtime and an efficiency in staffing that we cannot do without cooperation of each other. ... We don’t see anything drastic changing. We’re just trying to determine what decisions we can make now that will put us in the best place in the future."
The consolidation plan is said to be 1 to 2 years from implementation.
"I can't stress enough how extremely preliminary these talks are," Drysdale said. "I don't want to minimize the work that we've done so far, but there hasn't been a single decision yet. We're just brainstorming here."
This revelation comes just days after a Jan. 22 meeting of the Wyandotte Police and Fire Commission in which fire Sgt. Jeremy Moline asked commissioners if rumors were true that consolidation meetings were going on between Wyandotte and Southgate.
According to the meeting minutes, Commissioner Doug Melzer said he hadn't heard of any such talks. Fire Chief Jeffery Carley also was at the commission meeting, but did not address the issue, according to the meeting minutes.
Since that meeting, Drysdale said, he has met with representatives of the fire union to bring them up to date on the ongoing talks. He also said that fire commissioners were not aware of the ongoing discussion.
"It’s hard to inform somebody when there isn’t any information to give them," Drysdale said. "They're good guys and we'll work together, as we always have."
Moline, who serves as vice president of Wyandotte's fire union, said his department is not opposed to the two cities discussing the issue, but is hopeful that the fire unions from both cities will be kept abreast during the discussion.
"As long as there are no cuts to our citizens and to the services they receive, we're OK with it," Moline said.
This Isn't the First Time
This proposed two-department merger comes years after officials from several Downriver communities toyed with the idea of creating a Downriver-wide fire authority. Those talks ultimately fizzled because of a number of obstacles.
Over the last two decades, Drysdale said, there have been five attempts at consolidating Downriver fire departments.
"It's something that deserves being looked at, but has never really gotten off the ground because of a number of factors," he said.
But this planned merger looks promising because of the players involved, Drysdale said.
"We’ve always had a very good relationship with Southgate," he said. "We have had a number of consolidations with them over the years. ... Southgate is our preferred collaborative partner on all projects."
Geographically speaking, Drysdale said, many area fire departments are going through significant changes.
River Rouge and Ecorse are moving toward a combined public safety model for its police and fire departments. Allen Park and Lincoln Park are suffering severe financial distress, which could result in some level of state oversight. Riverview operates with a part-time fire department. Taylor recently had to close one of its fire stations.
"We’re kind of in the area where having a full-time dedicated department that can stand on its own is becoming more difficult," Drysdale said.
In addition to this latest fire merger, Wyandotte officials also are planning two other consolidations, according to Drysdale's letter.
Downriver Central Assessing would combine the city assessor's duties from Wyandotte, Southgate, Woodhaven and Riverview. That plan is said to save $30,000.
Wy-Riverview Golf Management would combine the management staff, as well as share equipment, between the golf courses in Wyandotte and Riverview. That plan is said to save $20,000.
Both of those consolidations are said to be a year from implementation.