Morale high as township departments merge
It’s been three months since the Raisin Township trustees voted to bring its Fire and Police Departments together under one Department of Public Safety (DPS) umbrella as part of a cost reduction plan for the township. Raisin Township operated for several years with a separate Fire Department and Police Department.
As township officials looked at savings possibilities at a time when future revenue losses were being estimated at $25.5 million in taxable values and continued revenue sharing cuts, several discussions had been held regarding blending the agencies into one public safety unit.
On March 4, with a 4-1 vote, the departments were merged and police chief Scott Lambka was named Director of Public Safety. Fire chief Richard Renard had resigned to accept employment elsewhere. Firefighter/EMTs Eddie Mathis and Jake Warner were named Assistant Fire Chiefs, and Sgt. Kevin Grayer was named Assistant Police Chief.
One of Lambka’s goals was to be able to merge personnel between the two departments by keeping everyone involved in the planning stages, but he knew there could be some issues to work through.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to go because there were a lot of unknowns and I think we were all a little apprehensive about that, but it really all just fell into place,” said Lambka. “Morale is just top-notch.”
The police department staff, which includes Lambka, Police Clerk Charity Wright, Sgt. Grayer and two other officers, moved from the former portable classroom facility into space occupied by the firefighters and a crew from Lenawee County Ambulance (LCA) following some minor modifications. The LCA crew is now housed in the portable unit. A new Raisin Township Department of Public Safety sign welcomes visitors to the building.
“Our guys have really adapted to the police officers being in here,” said Mathis. “I think the relationships we have now between the fire and police staff are better than they’ve ever been. The police officers are showing up on our medical calls and fire calls and helping us. We’re really a team now. Instead of being two separate units, we’re part of one big team.”
Warner said the call volume is up in Raisin Township over last year’s and response to the calls is also up as new members have been added to the unit. There are now 26 firefighter/EMTs and is expected to grow to 30 members. Staff members are hired as Paid-On-Call employees.
“It’s costly to train them because we have to send them to firefighter classes and then EMT classes and we also have to provide turnout gear,” said Warner, who added that it could cost several thousand dollars for each firefighter. “Since it is costly, we want to do everything we can to keep them once we do that.”
One of the first projects the new team worked on together was the purchase of a used ambulance. Each member had a say in what type of equipment the department would go after, and an ambulance that cost approximately $200,000 was obtained for $47,000. One day the firefighters were gathered when the idea surfaced of dedicating a vehicle in the fleet to former Raisin Township Supervisor Carl Wagner, who had also served as Fire Chief for many years, and actually helped pioneer EMS (emergency medical services) in the county.
“Advanced Life Support service in this county is what it is because of the work Carl and others did,” said Lambka. “Carl was very well respected in the departments and around the county and always has been. We still make decisions on what we think Carl might have done.”
When the DPS team was readying the new licensed transport ambulance, which serves as a back-up, (LCA is contracted for ALS services with the township), the team decided to have Wagner’s name painted on the front bumpers of the vehicle in his honor.
“No one saw it until after we had a private ceremony to show it to Kitty (Wagner’s wife) and the rest of the Wagner family,” said Mathis. The dedication took place at the end of May and then the vehicle was put into service.
“That was a memorable day — an emotional day,” said Lambka. “Everyone had a part in the decision to keep a transport ambulance and to dedicate it to Carl. This department has always had one since Carl led it so we wanted to keep the tradition. One of the firefighters commented that it would be a nice tribute, because Carl would still be making calls with us and leading the way.”