Why do we need a Fire Dept?

A fire department is a key element of the basic infrastructure of any community. As a community grows and prospers it seeks to attract businesses to that community. These businesses provide jobs and pay the largest share of the municipal tax base.

A well-equipped and properly trained professional fire department plays a vital role in attracting businesses to the community by keeping the cost of insurance low. Lower insurance rates equal more profit for businesses. Private property owners benefit as well with lower insurance rates. The average taxable value for a home in Traverse City for 2007 was $71,640. The total tax paid for that home was $2,581.51. Of that amount, $938.00 was for the City of Traverse City tax and $1,643.51 was for non-City taxes. The amount paid to the City to provide Fire Department services was $224.95. Without a fire department your insurance rates would definitely increase more than $224.95 per year.

It is more than money that underlies the need for a fire department. The fire department's first mission is life safety! That means protecting the citizens and guest of Traverse City by the best means possible. In light of this, the mission of the Traverse City fire department has changed over the past 20 years from only extinguishing fires to a wide range of disciplines: emergency medical services including advanced life support, hazardous material response, water and ice rescue, vehicle extrication, trench rescue, high angle and confined space rescue, aircraft rescue and firefighting, terrorism response and more.

Lives are also saved through proactive measures: fire prevention programs in local schools, fire inspections of over 2600 business occupancies, site plan reviews of new construction to ensure they meet fire codes and life safety programs throughout the community such as the File of Life and infant car seat installations.

What is the National Standard for fire department response?

The National Fire Protection Association has hundreds of standards that are followed by communities nationwide. The standard that applies to fire department response to a structure fire is NFPA 1710. This states that for a single family dwelling fire the initial response should be 15 personnel within 8 minutes. The City of Traverse City provides 10 personnel within 8 minutes Monday thru Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. After 5:00 pm and on weekends and holidays, that number is usually 5 personnel until 11:00 pm when it increases to 6 personnel until 7:00 am.

What Fire Department responds to my home or business?

The Traverse City Fire Department is the primary responder for the 8.2 square miles of City land and up to one mile off shore of east and west bay for water rescue. We also have automatic aid agreements with surrounding townships to assist them for fires. In return, they assist us with fires within the city limits. The average response time for 2007 for over 2,500 emergency response calls was 3 minutes 36 seconds. Many citizens that have a Traverse City address think the Traverse City Fire Department will respond to their home or business. If you live in Garfield, East Bay or Acme, the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department provides primary response. Peninsula Township, Blair Township, and Elmwood Township provide their own services.Long Lake, Kingsley, and Williamsburg make up Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department.

What is ISO and how does it affect my insurance rates?

Whether we like it or not, paying for insurance is a fact of life. Homeowner and business insurance companies use many factors when determining the cost of your premiums. One major factor is the level of fire protection. Most insurance carriers use what is known as ISO to determine the quality of fire protection available and therefore establish insurance rates.

ISO stands for Insurance Service Organization. This is a group of trained, professional evaluators that assess almost every fire department in the U.S. ISO uses a consistent set of guidelines to evaluate a fire department. ISO bases a fire departments rating on many factors including the number of personnel on duty, training level of personnel (paid or volunteer), the amount of water the fire department can get to a fire, the amount and quality of equipment used (such as fire engines and hand tools), and fire department dispatching (evaluates the dispatch centers ability to handle 911 calls). The purpose of ISO is to give insurance companies a uniform system on which to base their insurance premiums.

For an insurance company knowing the capabilities of a fire department is important. The better the fire department, the better protected a building is from fire damage and loss. The higher the level of protection, the less likely an insurance company will have to reimburse a claim for fire damage. The fewer number of claims, the lower the cost for the insurance provider. Of course fire protection can work the opposite way. A sub par fire department will experience more fire losses. More fire losses means more insurance claims filed. In order to make costs meet, the insurance companies raise the premiums you pay.

ISO gives a ranking of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being no protection at all. Currently the Traverse City Fire Department is rated at a level 5. For Grand Traverse County, Traverse City has the best rating with other fire departments in the area ranging from 6 to 9.

Why do firefighters work a 24 hour shift?

The bottom line - firefighters working a 24 hour shift saves the public money. It is the most efficient way to staff the fire department, which is why it is done nationwide. No schedule for career firefighters is more predominant.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempts firefighters from certain overtime rules. These exemptions allow firefighters to work their usual 24 hour shift at straight time wages. Other professions receive overtime wages during their normal 24 hour work period. There are provisions in FLSA under which firefighters may receive an additional 1/2 time pay for up to 3 hours a week if NO annual leave, sick leave, Military leave or workers compensation time is taken. This has low occurrence rate and can be further explained upon request.

24 hour shifts provide the most personnel on duty with the fewest number of actual employees, saving personnel costs on health care and retirement.

Example: The police department has 44 officers, with 36 assigned to patrol. These 36 employees, working 10 hour shifts, maintain a minimum staffing of 4 officers on duty at all times. The fire department is able to maintain a minimum staffing of 7 firefighters per shift, 24 hours each day with 24 suppression employees.

How much money do firefighters make?

As city employees our wage is considered public information. Unfortunately the numbers often quoted are inaccurate and inflated. The wages of individual firefighters are divided by job position, with increases for qualifications (such as paramedics) and longevity. Wages are set by a negotiated contract between the City of Traverse City and the Traverse City Firefighters Association. A new hire or recruit firefighter starts at $13.48 per hour. The most senior firefighter receives a base rate of $15.46 per hour. Lieutenants hourly rate is $17.03 per hour while Captainís make $18.69 per hour.

One other component that makes a firefighters annual wages appear high is that firefighters work 56 hours a week. Firefighters do not receive overtime during their normal 24 hour shift due to an exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act. This means a firefighter works 2912 scheduled hours a year. Someone working a 40 hour week job works 2080 scheduled hours per year. The difference of 832 hours accounts for the annual wages of firefighters appearing much higher than other professionals. If firefighters only worked 40 hours per week, the City of Traverse City would have to hire 8 additional personnel to have the same level of service currently provided.

Firefighters do have a public pension system but the city does not pay into Social Security for firefighters. We do not collect any Social Security benefits upon retirement, only the public pension provided by the City of Traverse City. To make ends meet, many of our firefighters work a second job. Many have worked the required quarters at their second job to qualify for Social Security benefits when they reach age 62 or older. Because we have a public pension, the Social Security benefit earned at a second job is reduced by more than 50%.

How does the fire department get all of their new equipment?

Much of the capital equipment our fire department has purchased comes from the city general fund. Some of the apparatus and equipment has come from grants awarded to the City of Traverse City by the Federal Government, State of Michigan, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, Rotary Charities and other groups. The Traverse City Fire Department has a variety of equipment to respond to many types of emergencies. This equipment includes engines (pumpers), aerials (ladder truckers), rescue truck, hazardous material truck, water rescue boats, technical rescue trailers, protective clothing (turnouts) for firefighters, and a multitude of fire and rescue equipment. These grants have greatly enhanced our capabilities at minimal cost to city residents. For example, the ladder truck purchase was made possible by a $850,000 grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa. Our $300,000 hazardous material truck and $500,000 of equipment to respond to hazardous material emergencies and weapons of mass destruction incidents was given to the City of Traverse City by the United States Department of Homeland Security through the State of Michigan.

Why does a fire truck come when I called for an Ambulance?

The Traverse City Fire Department tries to provide the best possible service to the citizens and visitors of Traverse City. Two of Traverse City's primary response vehicles are equipped with and staffed with personnel to provide Advanced Life Support services. Almost always, you will see Fire Department apparatus respond to a medical emergency along with an ambulance. There are two main reasons for this. Numerous times the ambulance can be delayed or unavailable because of other emergency calls they are responding to. The ambulance provider for the City of Traverse City also covers parts of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Antrim Counties. Fire department personnel respond in a fire engine or rescue truck on the average within 3 minutes and 36 seconds. The patient can be stabilized until an ambulance becomes available. The second scenario involves more critical patients who may be having a heart attack, difficulty breathing, or a severe traumatic injury. In these cases 2 personnel on an ambulance are not enough. National standards recommend 4 personnel respond to provide care for people having heart attacks. The Fire Department is staying proactive and trying to meet these National standards. We respond in fire apparatus so that if a fire or other emergency occurs while we are at a medical emergency, we do not have to return to the fire station to pick up equipment. This helps us respond to any incident as quickly as possible.

Why do so many fire trucks respond to a car accident?

The Traverse City Fire Department uses a nationally recognized and accredited dispatching system. This system determines what type of a response from the fire department is necessary based on information given to us by the person who calls 911. This system errs on the side of caution, ensuring that every resource that is needed responds to the emergency in a timely fashion.

Often times, things are not as "simple" as they look. To ensure each member of the public receives the best possible care, we always anticipate the worst case scenario and hope for the best. Each fire truck has a specific purpose and carries specialized equipment.

For a motor vehicle accident you will see on ambulance (perhaps two if multiple injuries are reported), a rescue truck which carries the "jaws of life" extrication tools and other special rescue equipment, a fire engine for manpower and in case the car catches fire, and a Captain or Lieutenant to supervise the scene.

This may appear to be a lot, but each is necessary to provide the consistent, professional service you expect and deserve. When it is a life and death scenario, and seconds count, you want all of the equipment immediately available.

Why do fire trucks sometimes turn off their lights and sirens after going through an intersection?

Fire trucks and ambulances use lights and sirens to warn the public and clear traffic while en route to an emergency call.

There is an element of risk every time a fire truck or ambulance drives through town with their lights and sirens on. Accidents while going to and from emergency calls are the second leading cause of death for firefighters. When a fire department representative arrives on the scene and finds the situation is not as serious as they led to believe, they will "downgrade" or cancel the rest of the fire department response. "Downgrade" means to have them continue without their lights and sirens, reducing the risk of firefighters and the public. This also reduces the disruption to normal traffic flow.

Why do I see firefighters at stores when they are working?

Firefighters work a 24 hour shift and must remain in the station or a fire department vehicle available for emergency response at all times. Therefore, all of the firefighters meals are eaten in the station. Firefighters are permitted to go to the store during the day to purchase items needed for these meals.

Many other times Traverse City Fire Department vehicles are at local businesses on official business such as inspections, performing training or education, or even answering questions or complaints. There are many public services performed by your fire department on a daily basis.

Finally, firefighters also routinely shop for needed fire department supplies and equipment.

Take advantage of this opportunity to interact with the firefighters and ask questions. Just don't be offended if they have to rush off.

What are some ways the Traverse City Firefighters are active in our community?

The union firefighters of the City of Traverse City are active in our community in many ways. Numerous members are active in local churches, youth sports, civic groups and other local organizations. We also volunteer our time to drive the 1936 American LaFrance fire truck at Friday Night Live, Special Kids Day, and other events around the community. The union also organizes and helps collect, wrap, and distribute hundreds of Christmas presents to underprivileged children in our community.

How do the Traverse City Firefighters spend their days? Are they just sitting around waiting for emergencies?

Remember, the TCFD responds to far more than fires. The fire department responds to medical emergencies, they go on hazardous materials responses and all types of rescues. They even assist city residents and businesses to stop property loss after a ruptured pipe or water leak.

In addition to responding to over 2500 calls per year, the fire department keeps busy with many other activities. When not responding to emergencies you may find us testing hose, testing our fire trucks, taking training classes (over 12,500 cumulative hours in 2007), cleaning the fire stations, washing the fire trucks or out conducting fire prevention activities in the 8 elementary and one high school we protect.

How does someone become a firefighter?

The City of Traverse City has a rigorous testing process that includes the following requirements: The applicant must-

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Possess a valid Michigan driverís license.
  • Possess a Firefighter I and Firefighter II certification from the State of Michigan.
  • Possess a Paramedic license from the State of Michigan.
  • Pass a physical agility test in less than 8 minutes.
  • Pass a written test.
  • Participate in an oral interview.

Once offered a position the applicant must:

  • Pass a medical exam.
  • Pass a psychological exam.
  • Go through a complete background check.

Once the applicant is hired they must pass a demanding six month probationary process.

Contact City Clerk Office for the date ,time and place for the next new hire list: