2016-10-13 / Life in Leelanau

To each their own

County fire departments designed differently
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

We take for granted that emergency medical and fire personnel will come roaring into the driveway when we call 9-1-1.

But there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes to ensure Leelanau residents and visitors get the help they need, when they need it.

There are seven local fire departments, including Grand Traverse Band Fire & Rescue, and they are all governed differently. Following are overviews of each:

• The Glen Lake Fire Department is run with direction from the Emergency Services Advisory Committee (ESAC), which is comprised of representatives from Glen Arbor and Empire townships. Members of the group discuss department operations, monitor expenses and make recommendations to both member township boards.

Roy Pentilla has represented Empire Township on ESAC for the past eight years.

“We meet monthly to go over all the bills and financial statements,” Pentilla said. “The chief reviews activities that have gone on since we last met (storm damage or accidents) and whether a truck broke down or something needs attention at the station.”

ESAC also works with the fire chief to assemble an annual budget with projected revenues and expenses, as well as contributions toward a 20-year capital equipment plan.

“Each township sets aside $195,000 each year toward capital improvements and we determine whether there’ll be enough money to fund the purchases,” Pentilla said.

Glen Arbor Township pays its share of expenses through a special assessment district. Empire Township meets its fire department contribution through an extra-voted property tax.

Department bills are recommended for approval by ESAC and presented for approval by representatives at their respective board meetings.

“It’s not exciting but I enjoy being able to contribute and see that both our townships are represented fairly,” he said.

• Suttons Bay/Bingham Fire and Rescue is operated by the county’s only fire “authority” and is the most autonomous group in the bunch.

The authority, comprised of two representatives from each township and an at-large appointee, works independently of the boards of each township and has one power that others don’t — the power to tax.

“We’re quite involved,” said at-large member Harry Wiberg, who has been on the authority board for five years. “I think the format works well.”

The group meets monthly during which it sets the budget, approves contracts for its unionized employees, makes equipment purchases and gives its “blessing” to hiring recommendations made by the chief.

• Cedar Area Fire & Rescue has been in operation just six months and is governed by a board comprised of representatives from its four member townships (Centerville, Cleveland, Kasson and Solon) and one at-large appointee who is approved by the four township boards.

The Cedar fire board is responsible for operations and the budget. However, each member township approves the budget and decides individually how it will meet the financial commitment. All four townships are levying extra-voted millages.

Retired Glen Arbor Fire Chief John DePuy is the at-large appointee on the board. “I really enjoy working with this group,” he said.

DePuy was asked to help the fledgling department get up and running.

Most recently, the board, with the blessing of its member townships, has gone to 24-hour Basic Life Support, allowing paid staff to respond around the clock.

Elsewhere in the county, township boards are the final authority in fire/ rescue operations.

• In Elmwood Township a public safety committee provides input to the township board on fire/rescue related matters. The budget is adopted by the township board.

• In Leelanau and Leland townships, chiefs are responsible for operations and developing a budget that is approved annually by their respective township board.

“I like working directly with our township board,” Leelanau Township Chief Hugh Cook said. “There are some communities where fire boards and township boards don’t always agree and that can be difficult.”

• The Grand Traverse Band Fire and Rescue is run as its own department under the Tribal Council. It also conducts tribal facility inspections and home inspections upon request.

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