Traverse City Commissioners Approve Budget Money to Hire Firefighter

The Traverse City Fire Department has been understaffed for years.

Finally, they’ll be able to hire more staff this summer.

They’ll add another firefighter to their team after city commissioners approved budget money for the department at their meeting Tuesday.

“It’s taken years to put that budget back up to where it should be and provide enough money for staff members,” said Traverse City commissioner Michele Howard. “It’s a safety issue and we really need to have our shifts full.”

The department has been short staffed for since 2012, after losing a position during the recession.

“From that, our numbers were reduced to attrition which meant that when someone was retired they weren’t replaced,” said fire Chief Jim Tuller. “We’ve been at it for a number of years, we are pretty excited to get this position filled and take the pressure off our personnel.”

For seven years, one of three 24 hour shifts has been down a firefighter.

The short staffing is even further complicated when personnel take vacation days, get sick or have to go to training out of town.

Chief Tuller has been maxing out his overtime budget of $100,000 every year since.

“We’ve been way over $200,000, close to $300,000 on some years,” said Tuller.

The city will pay for a new firefighter plus a new study to see if it’s worth it to invest in equipment and manpower to do fire based EMS transport. Currently, the department contracts with Munson’s Northflight EMS.

It takes the Traverse City department about three minutes to respond to a scene, but sometimes it takes the ambulance a lot longer.

Last year, firefighters had to take people to the hospital themselves 32 times, because an ambulance wasn’t close by.

Having in house transport could save lives when the Northflight ambulances are tied up on busy days.

“When someone’s having a cardiac event, seconds count, and we really want to look at this to improve our service to the community,” said Tuller.

A new firefighter will hopefully be hired by the end of the summer. The feasibility study will take around four months to complete.