Officials: Six months later, public safety department thriving

MANISTEE — One department is better than two.

That’s what local officials are saying six months after combining the Manistee City Fire and Police departments under the banner of the Public Safety Department.

The most striking aspect of bringing the two entities together was the elimination of the fire chief position and putting city police chief Dave Bachman in charge of both departments.

Dave Bachman, Director, Manistee City Department of Public Safety

The change was anything but simple leading up to the transition in March. There was much debate in council chambers and before the changes took effect, fire chief Sid Scrimger retired and Timm Smith became acting chief until Bachman took over.

Saving money and becoming more efficient were cited as reasons for the putting two departments under one administrator, according to city manager Mitch Deisch.

So far, the only money the city has saved has been the fire chief position’s salary and benefits, about $100,000.

“We’re not saving a dime right now,” Bachman said. “It’s not about saving the money right now, it’s about providing the best services available with the staff that we have. It’s going to cost us some money to get guys trained. It’s going to cost us some overtime to fill shifts to make sure these guys can get to school. Right now, it’s all about efficiency.”

According to Bachman, it was all worth it because the public safety department is now more efficient in both medical transports and fire response. He also said any talk of one department taking over the other has been proven wrong.

City firefighter John Pedie was just getting hired in at the time. The former Flushing fireman said he didn’t have any reservations about taking a position with a department in flux.

“I asked Chief Bachman at the interview process about what was going on because rumors were flying,” Pedie said. “He said there was going to be some change, but it was managerial and not departmental.”

The change has been very beneficial and any suspicions have now been quelled, according to Bachman.

“It’s going phenomenal,” he said. “Before I came to work here, the fire department was fearful that there was a plan to train police officers to do their job. I understand their concern. When I had guys going to fire school, there was a fear that somehow the police officers would work the road, do … fire(s), do the medical, and we wouldn’t need the fire department anymore.”

Police officers have been trained as fire fighters, but only to bolster the department’s response to serious fires, like the one on Pine Street last month.

“We had significant shortages at the scene of a fire. We had a manpower issue,” Bachman said. “I didn’t think that, as a fire fighting organization, we had the resources we needed in-house to fight a fire effectively and safely.”

Five city police personnel are now certified to fight fires to help with that problem: Det. Sgt. John Riley, Sgt. Steve Schmeling, Jeff Pefley, Brian Cook and Bachman.

“Now, best case scenario, I get 12 guys to the scene of a fire, where before … it was seven, maybe eight,” Bachman said.

The department is actively trying to get the new firefighters gear and equipment via federal and revenue sharing grants.

“Right now, we have the minimum necessary to get by,” Bachman said. “We need some new gear.”

The public safety department is also stepping up their emergency response services.

“It was readily apparent to me that this community values our emergency medical services that we provide,” Bachman said.

In January, the department began offering basic life support transports to West Shore Medical Center. When Bachman took over, they had two transports for every 10 calls. To Bachman, that meant they were only providing 20 percent of the EMS services, with 80 percent going to West Shore Medical Center emergency responders.

Now, they’re capturing five out of 10, “which is a lot,” according to Bachman.

“We’re still only providing 50 percent of the services in EMS that this community really needs,” he added.

Bachman’s goal is to be able to provide advanced life support services 100 percent of the time in the city. He thinks this will be possible when he has five full-time firefighters trained as paramedics. Firefighters Mark Cameron and Heath Darling are currently attending West Shore Community College. The tuition is being paid for with a revenue sharing grant. Firefighter and EMT Fred LaPoint is signed up for the same class, but paying his own way on the G.I. Bill.

“In a year, we’ll have three guys who are paramedic,” Bachman said. “Next year, I’ll send two more.”

Deisch also thinks the change has benefited the community.

“I think it’s going well, if not better, than we could have anticipated, when we started the process,” Deisch said. “What I’m pleased about the most is how the departments currently are cooperating together. In my tenure, and probably a long time before that, we haven’t seen a level of cooperation … the two departments are experiencing with the public safety director at the helm of it, Dave Bachman.”

Leave a Reply