By SHERRI KOLADE
DEARBORN — The city’s fire department is on tap to merge with that of Melvindale after members of both unions voted for Dearborn to absorb Melvindale’s 15 firefighters and its station — but the decision did not come without opposition.
Dearborn Firefighters IAFF Local 412 approved the merger Jan. 28 and Melvindale’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1728 members approved it during a second vote March 16. Both city councils still need to vote on the merger.
Melvindale fire union members voted against the merger earlier in the year because in Dearborn’s original proposal, Melvindale firefighters would have been placed in subordinate ranks once consolidated. The new proposal allows Melvindale firefighters to keep their ranks, Thorington said.
Dearborn fire union president Joey Thorington said it took time for Melvindale fire union members to become adjusted to the idea of merging with the DFD and everyone is “working toward the same goal.”
Thorington said several variables, include how long a firefighter has worked in the department, seniority status and rank, are taken into account in the new proposal.
Thorington said fire department officials will assign Melvindale firefighters to DFD positions based on their current rank and fit them “in as pretty closely as possible” to their current position.
“There is no perfect way on either side to do it,” he said. “We want to make it the most fair as possible.”
According to a published report, Melvindale firefighters will keep separate pensions if the merger is approved.
Melvindale also would have a second fire truck and ambulance stationed in the city.
Melvindale Fire Union President Dennis Shultz did not return calls seeking comment by press time.
Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray said challenging economic situations encouraged him to discuss the possibility of merging fire departments with Melvindale.
Murray said the idea has been in the works for a few years, even before he became chief last year.
Melvindale Fire Chief Steven Densmore said the next step is for fire department representatives to go before Melvindale City Council and present them with a consolidation plan.
“We hope to (have) in the next couple weeks everything ironed out as far numbers,” Densmore said.
A meeting date has not been set yet.
Dearborn Councilman Bob Abraham said consolidating municipal services is important and required “to create a sustainable financial plan for Dearborn and the taxpayers.”
“To continue to offer and deliver the best quality service and competitive property tax rates, change is necessary,” he said. “Many services, like fire, will be merged, consolidated and regionalized over the next decade to help reduce overall costs and maintain the quality service mix.”
Melvindale City Council officials did not return calls seeking comment by press time.
Densmore said fire officials in both cities are looking at the operational side of merging departments and what options make the most sense.
“It is a good thing to move forward with,” Densmore said.
Densmore said most likely Melvindale firefighters would stay at their current station, 3160 Oakwood, and later might be rotated to other stations as needed.
The Dearborn Fire Department has 121 firefighters and four stations — 3750 Greenfield, 6501 Schaefer, 19800 Outer Drive and 3630 Wyoming — including three stations on the city’s east side.
Thorington said he thinks the merger is working out “great” and he looks forward to working with Melvindale Firefighters.
Murray said his department is still working on possible consolidation efforts between the two cities.
Dearborn and Melvindale city administrators are working out financial agreements and a cost savings plan, Murray said.
Once a cost analysis plan is drawn up, city administrators will present it before city councilors in both cities, Murray said.
“It is definitely something to bring to their attention,” he said. “I’m hoping within the next few weeks to be able to set dates to speak with councils, mayors and staff administrators because both communities need to be on board prior to our meeting with council.”
Murray said because a lot goes into merging two departments into one operation, fire department personnel applied for Competitive Grant Assistance, a state grant that would help with the costs of standardizing both fire departments.
The CGA, formerly known as the Economic Vitality Incentive Program Grant, provides incentive-based grant funding to assist with costs associated with mergers, inter-local agreements, and cooperative efforts within cities, communities, counties and school districts that combine services.
Murray said he is waiting on an answer from state officials to see how much financial support the DFD will receive.
He said consolidating two fire departments into one costs a little over $1 million.
Murray said the DFD applied for the CGA grant to cover costs associated with the merger for the amount of $1.2 million.
The money would cover vehicle and equipment replacement and firefighter salaries, among other things.
“There are significant startup costs,” he said. “But there is long-term, significant amounts of savings the grant produces in helping communities and cities get off the ground.”
Murray said fire department personnel won’t know until the end of March whether they received the grant.
He said because the merger is still in the early stages, he is unsure how much money will be saved.
(Sherri Kolade can be reached at [email protected].)