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June 29, 2013

Proposal suggests changes for Peninsula Township Fire Department

TRAVERSE CITY — Talk of reorganizing the Peninsula Township Fire Department is prompting fear among some residents that the fire chief’s job may be on the line.

That’s not the case, contends one of the two Peninsula Township Fire Board members who proposed the reorganization idea.

Board members Dave Sanger and Sherman Atkinson at a June meeting proposed a written plan to hire an emergency services director to serve as the single contact between the board and the fire, emergency and marine departments. The five-member fire board provides oversight for the department.

Chief Rich VanderMey currently reports to the board about activities within the fire department, which has four full-time staff including VanderMey and 20 part-time employees.

The recommended new structure includes the new director and three full-time positions -- fire services chief, emergency medical services manager and marine services manager -- to be filled by current employees. The plan doesn’t mention eliminating a current staffer.

But members of the Peninsula Fire and Rescue Association, a nonprofit that raises money for the department, fear a new hire would cut VanderMey, who’s been the helm of the department for 24 years, said Pam VanderMey his wife and association president.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are supportive of the fire department and the way that it’s being run now ... and they’re against this and they’re wondering why they’d even do something like this,” she said.

Sanger, the fire board chairman, said the proposal was not intended to get anybody “shook up,” and there’s no reason why VanderMey couldn’t apply for any of the suggested positions.

“The fire board took no action on it,” he said of the proposal. “Unfortunately, I think some members of the community have panicked.”

The director’s projected salary and benefits would cost the township $84,800 annually. VanderMey now earns $47,000. Suggestions to save money include scrapping overtime and eliminating a part-time weekday shift. Full-time employees work a rotation of one day followed by two days off, and the proposal alters the rotation to one day followed by three days off.

“That’s a cut in their pay, significantly,” Pam VanderMey said.

Fire board member Steve Ball said he has concerns about the draft plan, which will be further discussed at a meeting set for Monday.

“I am not in favor to add another layer of management,” said Ball, a Traverse City firefighter. “Is it really needed?”

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