Delhi fire to add 12 full-timers
Township to pay $115,000 more to increase force

By Hugh Leach
Lansing State Journal

DELHI TWP., MI - Delhi Township plans to add 12 full-time people to its fire department next year to combat a serious turnover problem that's also plaguing other mid-Michigan departments.
"We have become a revolving door for other agencies that offer full-time employment," said Fire Chief Richard Royston, one of four full-timers.
Turnover of part-time and volunteer firefighters also has affected Lansing and DeWitt townships.
"It's a major problem," Lansing Township Fire Chief Bill Oakley said. "We often lose people when bigger, full-time departments like Delta Township, Meridian Township, Lansing, East Lansing or even Detroit or Grand Rapids are hiring.
"Other than adding more full-time people, there's no answer to it."
Lansing Township now has 16 full-time employees, most added during the past several years, but the department still depends heavily on volunteers.
DeWitt Township relies entirely on paid-on-call volunteers. It has just one full-time employee at each of its two fire stations, township Superintendent Matthew Kulhanek said.
"It's difficult to find people who are interested and then retain them," he said.
After savings from reducing part-time hours and on-call volunteers, the Delhi department will need about $115,000 more to add the 12 full-timers. That money is in reserve, Township Supervisor Stuart Goodrich said.
The township board is expected to approve adding the 12 jobs Jan. 7. The fire department also provides ambulance service to the township.
"We either add full-time people and provide them with benefits, or we won't be able to provide the service and that's not an option for me," Trustee Roy Sweet said.
In 2001, Delhi brought in 30 new people and had 29 leave, Royston said. So far this year, 28 have been brought in and 20 have left.
"Young folks come in and get experience here, then they get an opportunity to go to a full-time job in another department," said Assistant Fire Chief Dave Wilcox, who's completing 30 years as a part-timer and volunteer.
"We benefit for a short period of time, then the other department gets a person who is fully trained."
The state pays for firefighter training, Royston said, but Delhi invests about $850 in other costs, including equipment and physicals, in each new fire department member.
It's hard to find people with the interest or time to work for the department, he said.
And then there's the preparation: Recruits must undergo six months of training, which takes two nights a week plus some
That doesn't mean Delhi plans to phase out part-timers and
"We have a core of about 15 volunteers who have a strong commitment to community service," Township Supervisor John Elsinga said.
Elsinga said the department has nearly 60 volunteer members, who receive $14 an hour when responding to calls, and six part-time people: the assistant chief, a fire inspector and four shift
By adding 12 full-timers, he said, the township could get by with about 40 volunteers.
The full-timers also would cover more than 90 percent of the shift supervision.
Part-time shift supervisors are paid $11 an hour.
Volunteers typically spend 250 to 300 hours a year in training, answering calls or participating in other department tasks.
Royston said members also work with public schools on mentoring and other activities, teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes and help the Community Food Basket program.