2018-02-14 / Front Page

Mayfield Twp. Fire Dept. forges on

Deputy chief named, officials form advisory group, talks millage
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Mayfield Township Acting Fire Chief Tom Mitchell told township trustees Monday that he needs a deputy chief because, among other reasons, “bouncing all these ideas off myself gets pretty boring after a while.” 
Photos by Andrew Dietderich Mayfield Township Acting Fire Chief Tom Mitchell told township trustees Monday that he needs a deputy chief because, among other reasons, “bouncing all these ideas off myself gets pretty boring after a while.” Photos by Andrew Dietderich MAYFIELD TWP. — Mayfield Township board members forged ahead Monday in establishing the Mayfield Township Fire Dept. by appointing a deputy fire chief, forming an advisory committee, and talking millage for the ballot in August or November.

The township board of trustees took the actions despite questions remaining about how the department would be structured and funded.

One thing appears clear, however — continuing the contract with Lapeer Fire & Rescue once the current contract expires is not an option.

The four-year deal went into effect Oct. 1, 2017. The first year of the deal is costing Mayfield Township $185,000 with 2 percent annual increases.

Kris Lewis provided a brief bio about himself before being appointed deputy chief of the Mayfield Township Fire Dept. on Monday. Kris Lewis provided a brief bio about himself before being appointed deputy chief of the Mayfield Township Fire Dept. on Monday. “The way I see this going is (Lapeer Fire & Rescue) can come to us in four years and, if we haven’t done anything, say ‘Hey, you know what, it’s $300,000 (a year), and guess what, take it or leave it,’” said Dan Engelman, trustee, Mayfield Township. “That’s basically what we were told this time — take it or leave it — and we didn’t have anything in place so we got taken.”

Mayfield Township Supervisor Dianna Ireland recently noted that city officials “told us that if we did not sign by a certain date that they would beginning notifying central dispatch, adjoining fire departments, and the public that they may no longer be servicing or responding to any fire-related incidents in Mayfield Township effective at midnight, Oct. 1.”

She said city officials indicated the cost of the first year of the contract would be more than $204,000, if Mayfield Township waited to sign it beyond the expiration of the previous agreement.

Township officials instead relented and agreed to the new deal before it expired. Mayfield Township is paying $185,000 for the first year with a subsequent 2 percent increase annually.

But the perceived threat left a bad taste in the mouths of at least some township officials, according to Ireland.

“The consensus of the board felt per those extortive remarks that the City of Lapeer clearly does not have the health, safety and welfare for our residents at heart by standing back and letting our properties burn by not responding to a fire,” Ireland has recently said.

On Jan. 8, township officials passed a resolution “establishing the township of Mayfield Fire Department.”

On Jan. 31 and Feb. 10, the township hosted public forums about the newly formed fire department (see story, page 3A). Many have expressed frustration about the how the fire department is coming together.

On Monday, however — with a much smaller group than the roughly 100 or so to attend the public forums — township officials seemed undeterred in their efforts to break away from Lapeer Fire & Rescue.

Mayfield Township Acting Fire Chief Tom Mitchell — who now has a seat at the board of trustees’ table — said he has “been working on some inventory lists” that he compiled by looking at “an actual catalog.”

He passed out the inventory list to board members. Mitchell did not provide any copies of the “inventory lists” to the public. Nor did he verbally disclose any of the detailed information contained in the “inventory lists” during the meeting, including costs. (The County Press filed a request through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for the “inventory lists” after press time Tuesday.)

“It’s a hypothesis…it’s a best guess...it’s what I’ve thought of all through the years in walking through other fire stations and looking at various things,” Mitchell said.

Ireland clarified that it was “sort of a start-up budget, sort of.” She did not provide any details of what was in the document nor provide any copies of the “inventory lists” to the public.

“That is…basically, yes…from the station up to the gear and all the guys to that point,” Mitchell said.

“But for the next month I’ll have something else for you guys, too,” he said. “I’m continually working on stuff, while working a full-time job so we’ll have more, every month I’ll have something for you guys to take a look at and discuss amongst yourselves, or for the board.”

Mtichell also asked the board if he could appoint Kris Lewis as deputy fire chief. Lewis also has experience with several area fire departments and works in courtrooms at the Lapeer County Complex as a deputy with the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept.

Mitchell passed out a bio of Lewis to the board members. He did not provide any copies of the bio to the public.

“As you all can gather, building a fire department from the ground up is a daunting task for anyone, especially one guy,” Mitchell said, later noting a need for co-counsel because he has “all kinds of ideas scrambled up in my brain” and “bouncing all these ideas off myself gets pretty boring after a while.”

“I’ve always been told that a chief, or a captain, or a colonel is only as good as the people with him,” Mitchell said. “I need someone who is going to have my back 100 percent. If something was to happen to me, he’d step up into that role, and I know if I came back that role would still be there for me.”

Before taking any action, Supervisor Ireland asked Mitchell a question.

“What is like, procedurally, what would be the next procedure to do, what happens? I mean how’s that process work, do we swear you in?,” Ireland said.

Township attorney Michael Gildner was not present for Monday’s meeting.

“Normal procedure is the clerk swears me in and she kind of gives me the power to swear in the rest of the firefighters from the deputy chief on down,” Mitchell said noting that would occur when “the board deems it appropriate.”

Mitchell became acting fire chief via a board-approved resolution on Jan. 8. As he noted Monday, he is currently “working for free” to establish the fire department.

Dan Frisch, treasurer, Mayfield Township, raised the question of why a deputy fire chief was being appointed at this time.

“We’re making a lot of appointments…we don’t have a fire department yet,” Frisch said. “So is this going to go on the ballot in August to see if the millage passes?”

“If we can get it on there in time,” Ireland said.

“And if it doesn’t pass, then what?” Frisch asked.

“We’ll have to talk about that,” Ireland said.

“So we’re going to make all these appointments ahead of time, but we don’t know what we’re going to do?” Frisch asked.

“Yeah, we’re not saying it’s going on the August ballot, there’s a lot that has to be done, it has to be done by April 24,” said Julie Schlaud, clerk, Mayfield Township. She did not say what has to be done by April 24.

“It may have to go on the November (ballot),” she said.

“And if it doesn’t pass, then what?” Frisch asked again. “You have a chief, a deputy chief, he’s talking about getting other firefighters…”

Beth Potter-Knowlton, a Mayfield Township trustee, said that “I had been under the understanding when we were trying to negotiate with the city that we had all felt fairly committed to moving forward with the fire department. I mean, I’ve been on the board for 12 years now and it has always been an issue and I don’t see the issue improving.”

Still, Frisch stuck to his guns, and questioned why there was such a rush to make appointments with 3.5 years left in the contract with the City of Lapeer.

“We’ve got four years. Why do we feel we have to appoint a chief, deputy chief, and get firefighters lined up? We have a contract with the city for four years,” Frisch said.

“I don’t know how we can’t start moving forward…” Potter-Knowlton said.

“Well we can, once it’s on a ballot, people say ‘Yeah’, then we can go forward,” Frisch said. “If it doesn’t then we’ve got to discuss what we’re going to do.”

Engelman reiterated the importance of moving ahead with the process “now we’ve finally made the move.”

“There’s going to be some bumps and some hurdles that we have to adjust to or whatever, but we’ve got to act on something,” he said. “Or (Lapeer Fire & Rescue) have us at their mercy again.”

Also on Monday, the board also approved a resolution to form an advisory board to discuss the Mayfield Township Fire Dept.

The board will consist of Mitchell, Lewis, one township board member, and three others from the community to be determined.

With regard to the advisory committee, Mitchell said “I’ve never built a fire department from the ground up. I don’t know many people that actually have unless it was 40 or 50 years ago so the deputy chief and myself would need all the help in the world. We’re firefighters, of course, but we need consulting on other things, too.”

The township board next meets March 12.

Residents reply

• Mayfield Twp. residents challenge officials to provide more information, 3A

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