Proposal: Dissolve Muskegon Fire Department, contract from Muskegon Heights

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. -- The Muskegon Fire Department may be changing as we know it: Muskegon Heights Fire Chief and City Manager will announce a proposal at their City Council meeting Monday.

"The city of Muskegon would stop providing fire service and [Muskegon Heights] would then take over and start providing service to the city of Muskegon and as well as continue within our own jurisdiction," said Muskegon Heights Fire Chief Chris Dean.

Muskegon Heights City Manager Jake Eckholm says Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson approached him last October about contracting fire services from Muskegon Heights. Eventually, he says Peterson asked Muskegon Heights' officials to draft a proposal.

"I can say it would offer better coverage than the status quo in both communities today, for a very competitive rate to the taxpayer," said Eckholm.

Both Eckholm and Dean deferred to Muskegon city officials about whether this will cause layoffs, and how it would affect the cities' budgets. Peterson was not reached for comment on Monday.

"Anyone who wants to work for the city of Muskegon Heights, and wants to provide a quality service to the citizens of both cities, are welcome to work for my organization," said Dean.

Since January, FOX 17 reported ongoing frustrations among Muskegon firefighters. Muskegon Professional Firefighters Union, Local 370, President Chris Drake says their staffing is at a historic low with up to nine firefighters per shift. He says according to the National Fire Protection Association's standard: 15 firefighters are needed to safely fight a typical house fire.

"Most departments are not where they want to be staffing-wise, that includes us and the city of Muskegon," said Eckholm. "This is really a creative answer to offer a solution to that."

Drake says the Union and firefighters have not seen the Muskegon Heights' proposal and cannot yet comment.

On March 1, the Union's Facebook post read in part, the Muskegon Fire Department is "not for sale:"

"Remember, the city managers and public safety director have zero firefighting experience, so they have made their case only on financial numbers, many of which are inaccurate. The City of Muskegon has the funds available to sustain the Muskegon Fire Department with 12 firefighters per shift. Muskegon Heights currently struggles to maintain 3 firefighters per shift and has had to rely on Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants in the past just to maintain this critically low level of staffing. The City of Muskegon has not pursued a SAFER Grant because an audit by the grantor would show the City has more than enough money to maintain adequate staffing. In the end, having a financially struggling city take over fire and emergency medical response for a fiscally sound city makes zero sense."

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