Harper Woods Residents Vote No to Combining Fire, Police Departments
Watched closely by the GP public safety departments, the vote could impact how emergency services are handled through the mutual aid agreement.
Harper Woods residents voted Tuesday to keep separate fire and police departments instead of convert to a cross-trained public safety department. The vote is important to Grosse Pointe public safety departments as the five Pointes and Harper Woods have a mutual aid agreement.
The issue has been at the forefront of the Harper Woods budget discussions and firefighters have been campaigning heavily against the conversion. Adding fuel to the fire, the police officers were cross-trained before the decision went to the voters.
During a recent council meeting, Harper Woods Mayor Pro Tem John M. Szymanski said a vote against the conversion would mean total reliance on the Grosse Pointes to fight their fires. Voting against the conversion would mean a round of layoffs for all the Harper Woods firefighters, according to the meeting minutes.
According to the City of Harper Woods website, residents voted against the conversion 1,464 to 1,043 (58 percent to 42 percent).
Grosse Pointe Woods City Manager Al Fincham said all of the Pointes and Harper Woods are planning to have a meeting within the next few weeks regardless of the outcome of the vote to discuss the impact of their dwindling budget's effect on the mutual aid agreement.
The mutual aid agreement enables any of the departments to call on each other in the event of a second-alarm fire or worse. The departments are organized for response based on physical location, so the Woods and the Shores are the Pointes that would be most affected by a "no" vote, Fincham said.
In the event of a two-alarm fire in Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods is the first department to respond after Harper Woods with an engine truck and the Shores responds with a medic truck, Fincham said.
Harper Woods has been trying to reorganize its emergency response departments for years and Grosse Pointe Woods has already upped its level of response as Harper Woods manpower has decreased due to budget constraints, Fincham said.
Fire response is a concern for at least one resident in Grosse Pointe Woods, too. A man who attended Monday's council meeting questioned whether firefighters would show up at his neighbor's house—which is in Harper Woods. His fear is that the neighbor's home will burn and damage his home because firefighters would not respond.
Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke and Fincham answered the resident's questions and explained residents should not fear that there will not be response. Fincham also explained that the mutual aid agreement has been in effect since 1956 and will continue to be honored.
"There has always been an excellent working relationship," Fincham said Tuesday, noting that Harper Woods also responds to Grosse Pointe fires when additional help is needed. "We're all in this together. It trickles down, like a domino effect."
Grosse Pointe Shores Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni announced the outcome of the vote during an informal council meeting late Tuesday, while explaining how his officers are triple trained—police, fire and emergency medical technicians.
Poloni said he doesn't believe the vote will immediately impact his department, noting the Harper Woods voters will need to determine how to fund and maintain two departments.
Shores Mayor James Cooper also noted the potential for an increase in service calls upon hearing the vote results.