Three Berrien County fire departments expoloring consolidation
BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- Three fire departments in Berrien County could soon become one.
The Baroda Fire Department, Lake Township Fire Department, and Bridgman Fire Department list a firefighter shortage and the high cost needed to fully train and equi[ a department as the main reasons why they’re exploring this option.
The departments are still in the early stages but some believe combining the resources of all three departments would benefit residents.
“This is looking forward into more than just the calls,” said Baroda Fire Lieutenant Griffin Ott. “It’s the training, it’s the paperwork sharing, it’s the manpower.”
Ott says the nationwide shortage of firefighters, especially volunteers, is now impacting their departments. According to department websites, each department staff less than 25 firefighters.
Ott explains a lot of people don’t pursue firefighting anymore because of the job’s physical and mental demands and its time commitment.
Ott adds it’s expensive to fund a department. He says small municipalities can’t fully budget what’s needed to train and equip a department each year.
“I think more departments will look towards consolidation because of like we talked about already, the lack of manpower is the biggest issue, and also lack of funding,” said Ott. “A new pumper these days is going to go for over half a million dollars, so sharing apparatus, sharing equipment, sharing people all very important things to saving money saving time saving manpower saving people’s backs.”
Ott stresses nothing is set in stone but the belief is combining all three departments would address these issues and benefit residents.
“Some of the communities, like Baroda, that don’t have medical responders would possibly pick those up,” said Ott. “That would be an increased service here in the town like Baroda. In other communities, you’re not going to see the difference except in maybe manpower and they’ll see more people coming to calls which is a good thing.”
Lake Charter Township Treasurer, Bob Clark, says the three departments and municipalities began talks a few months ago after Baroda failed to pass a millage that would fund a new department building.
Clark says they surveyed firefighters and held a meeting last week. Initial results showed 22 firefighters in favor, five not in favor, and a few undecided.
“It’s possible, there’s some good things but there’s a lot of things that need to be worked through and resolved,” said Clark.
Clark says a lot is up in the air, like how long the process would take or what the new department would look like in the end.
“If we can share and we can work together and we can do things together and it’s going to be better for all of the communities involved then those are the directions we should go in versus our little islands of this is them and this is us and were not going to share ideas, we’re not going to work together,” said Clark.
He says in the end, the municipalities and departments will do what’s best for the community.
“If you consolidate and it’s not done properly and everything isn’t thought out and you don’t take your time it can end up being worse for everybody than if you just said now is not a good time, now is not the right time,” said Clark. “Let’s just learn from our discussions and move forward the way we have been”
The municipalities plan to hold at least two more meetings. Clark says if those go well there will likely be more meetings and a consultant would likely be hired. If the consolidation clears those hurdles, it would likely be brought to the ballot for a final decision.