Salted with Sharks

Here’s the Drill on Fire Department Figures

In Alert Reader, On and off the Apron, Politics on January 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Frankfort City Superintendent Josh Mills responds to “We Didn’t Start the Fire…”

Doug Holmes has always been supportive of the Fire Department, attended every meeting, and voted on the establishment of pay for personnel and approval toward equipment expenditures. I’d like to make a few clarifications regarding fire department funding and salaries.

Mr. Holmes is correct in saying the Fire Department has good equipment. It is a mandate to have sound, working equipment, and we have been successful in accommodating this through procurement of grants and budget control. [Mr. Mills is responsible for writing Fire Department grants.—Ed.] Well over $200,000.00 in grant funds have been procured to purchase well-deserved equipment for this department, which responds to a 56-square-mile area encompassing the City of Frankfort, Village of Elberta, Gilmore Township, Crystal Lake Township and Lake Township. Currently, Crystal Lake and Lake townships have fire millages to pay their share. Frankfort, Elberta and Gilmore pay out of their respective General Funds.

Benzie County provides ALS (advanced life support) service, but they cannot fully provide an enhanced service without the MFR (medical first responder) services provided by the City of Frankfort. On numerous occasions the Frankfort MFR is first on the scene, providing a precious service enhancing the quality of life we desire.

The Fire Chief is Eric Luxford (longtime Fire Chief Casey Hollenbeck lost a courageous battle with cancer) and the Assistant Fire Chief is Charlie Thompson, an Elberta resident. The Fire Chief has a base salary of $9,350.00 per year and the Assistant Chief has a base salary of $2,250.00 per year. All personnel were issued a pay freeze last year. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Fire Chief: $9,350.00 per year, with an hourly rate on dispatched calls of $19/hr. The Fire Chief also receives a $250/month vehicle allowance because he uses his own vehicle to respond to emergencies.
  • Asst. Fire Chief: $2,500.00 per year, with an hourly rate on dispatched calls of $18/hr.
  • Firefighters and MFR: $16/hr for dispatched calls. No base salary.

There is an $800/week cap on on-call personnel trained and certified in fire and MFR. These individuals receive $8.00 per hour to be on call for emergencies at the Frankfort Fire Station.

For several years, the Fire/MFR personnel took unpaid on-call shifts at the Fire Station. They were on-call without compensation unless a 911 call was dispatched, at which point they received the hourly dispatch rate. It is important to have personnel at the station to ensure a quick response time in the event of a 911 call. Two years ago it was decided that we’d pay individuals $8/hr to be on-call at the station. These individuals have to be dual trained in firefighting and MFR. If a 911 call is placed, the individuals on-call at the station are the first responders. These on-call personnel do not then receive the $16/hr 911 dispatch rate. If an additional, off-site, person is required, that person receives the $16/hr rate. The on-call pay rate has a total cap of $800 per week, or an aggregate of 100 hours, regardless of the number of individuals on-call. So for example, if six individuals are on call, they cannot earn a total among them of more than $800, and none of them can personally exceed 16 hours of work that week. All the personnel have full-time jobs elsewhere, so this on-call structure serves as an incentive to keep at least a few trained members readily available at all times, and provides them with some compensation for their time whether or not there’s an emergency. The amount of compensation for each member fluctuates annually based on run volume and the number of on-call assignments. The run volume from January 1, 2010, to December 16, 2010, was 253 for MFR-dispatched calls and 120 for fire-related calls. The breakout to each municipality is as follows:

MFR—253 Runs (1/1/10–12/16/10)

  • City of Frankfort          116
  • Crystal Lake Twp.          71
  • Lake Twp.                        45
  • Gilmore Twp.                  16
  • Village of Elberta             2 (does not engage in MFR coverage)
  • Benzonia/Blaine Twp.    3 (mutual-aid support)

Fire—120 Runs (1/1/10–12/12/10)

  • City of Frankfort         36
  • Crystal Lake Twp.       29
  • Lake Twp.                     23
  • Gilmore Twp.                9
  • Village of Elberta        18
  • Benzonia/Blaine          5

The total annual operating budget for the Fire Department including MFR is $208,070.00 per year. The cost share for each municipality is as follows:

  • City of Frankfort Fire        $48,512.96
  • City of Frankfort MFR      $14,841.06
  • Village of Elberta Fire       $13,230.76
  • Village of Elberta MFR     $0.00 (elected not to have MFR service)
  • Crystal Lake Twp. Fire      $47,939.40
  • Crystal Lake Twp. MFR    $11,992.89
  • Lake Twp. Fire                    $46,241.01
  • Lake Twp. MFR                  $11,291.44
  • Gilmore Twp. Fire              $11,125.87
  • Gilmore Twp. MFR            $2,894.61

The breakout formula for the annual cost distribution is based on population, State Equalized Value (SEV; determined by property value assessments), and a three-year run volume for each entity.

The average number of MFR responders per dispatch is two, but there are numerous occasions where one individual will respond and, if the emergency is severe, will require three or four more individuals to help out. Fire runs normally have four responders, but in cases of a structure fire or vehicle accident we normally have six to seven members respond. We have a spreadsheet that illustrates who responded to each run, and that is used to determine the compensation associated with each incident. On all structure fires, there is an automatic two-station response. So, if there is a structure fire in Elberta, the Frankfort Fire is dispatched and has command of the scene, with support from the Benzonia Twp. Fire Departmet on a mutual-aid basis. And vice versa, if there is a structure fire in Benzonia, Frankfort Fire will provide mutual-aid support.

Each run is different, and the time commitment varies. On-call personnel receive an hour’s worth of compensation for any call up to an hour. If additional personnel are needed, they come when they can get leave of their job and/or family.

The cost share and breakout for compensation is clearly very complex. We are a paid and volunteer department and due to the run volume and state mandates associated with training, we have needed to become very creative to provide incentives for personnel. It is a huge time commitment, so maintaining some level of on-call presence while still accommodating every individual’s work and family schedule can be complicated. I feel we have been successful in meeting the needs of the community at a very reasonable cost.

The cooperative agreement established among all municipalities to create the Frankfort Fire Department is a wonderful example of intergovernmental cooperation. Each entity has a say in the operations of the Frankfort Fire Department. The pooling of resources has enabled the efficient and successful operation of this department. Also, all Benzie County Fire Chiefs (Frankfort, Benzonia, Thompsonville, Almira, Homestead, and Inland) meet regularly to discuss joint training, mutual-aid expectations, and acquisition of specialized equipment to eliminate waste of precious resources.

We are now establishing the budget for the next fiscal year, and a fire advisory board made up of members representing each municipality will be established within the next month. The City of Frankfort and Village of Elberta have a wonderful relationship that will only be improved through further collaboration and partnering to achieve an enhanced quality of life to the community! I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone has about the fire department.


Josh Mills

231-352-7117 at City Hall

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