Faced with a daunting cost estimate of $587,000 to cross-train enough Holland police officers and firefighters to maintain minimum staffing levels - not including the cost of overtime - the Public Safety Service Delivery Report has concluded it is not a feasible option.
The report, released Friday, is expected to end four years of intense study of every facet of the Holland Public Safety Department, which started with the retirement of the fire and police chiefs at the end of 2008. The department was subsequently combined under the administration of one chief and cut to minimal staffing levels. An emergency medical services study was released in early 2012 that resulted in no change in how the city's fire services division provides EMS service.
One option that was considered: cross-training firefighters and police officers to provide both services, a strategy used by other municipalities in the state. The idea was scrutinized last year by some Holland City Council members adamant that police officers and firefighters choose their profession because that is the service they want to provide.
Police officers don't want to run into burning buildings, and firefighters don't want to carry guns, Councilwoman Nancy De Boer said last year during discussions.
In anticipation of the possibility of cross training, Fire Capt. Chris Tinney enrolled in the police academy, Public Safety Chief Matt Messer said. With the release of the study, Tinney has withdrawn.
"I needed him here to run the fire operations," Messer said.
While the city was studying whether to combine the departments, Messer and Tinney were interim chiefs of their respective departments.
Collaborating with a neighbor With the study concluded and cross training off the table, city officials will focus on collaboration with Holland Charter Township to provide better service to both city and township residents.
"It just makes sense," Messer said, explaining the southeastern part of Holland Township is closer to the city's Waverly Station than to any of the three township stations.
The two entities could - any changes in how each provides service would need votes of the council and board - collaborate training, develop service districts and provide auto aid in situations where there is a fire in a large building, such as a high rise or high-density apartment complex. City and township officials have discussed collaboration, City Manager Ryan Cotton said.
Notable differences The study, completed by key personnel from city hall and public safety, was done by visiting other municipalities to evaluate how public safety, particularly fire services, were provided and at what cost.
The township does not have a full-time fire department and uses part-paid firefighters who earn a base pay of $3,425 and are required to respond to at least 50 percent of fire calls. They are then paid hourly for their response and earn an average annual salary of $8,500, according to the study.
The city of Holland maintains a full-time, full service fire department with numerous duties in addition to responding to fires, including first response to priority 1 and 2 medicals. There is one fire captain, one fire marshal and 18 full-time firefighters who maintain their emergency medical technician status. The city also uses up to 30 part-paid firefighters to respond to fires. The department currently is short-staffed for part-paid personnel, Messer said. Those positions earn an annual salary of $4,500, with no hourly wage and are required to respond to 60 percent of the calls.
The city of Holland provides fire services for about $85 per capita, the study said, compared to the Grand Traverse Metro Emergency Services Authority that does it for $110 per capita, the South Haven Area Emergency Services at $78 per capita and Grand Haven Township at $59 per capita. Each has full-time personnel.
Holland Township responds to fires, but provides no other services, with its part-paid personnel at a cost of about $25 per capita at a total cost of about $900,000 in 2012, according to the study.