Traverse City Record-Eagle

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July 2, 2014

No quick marriage of fire departments

TRAVERSE CITY — A report that did not recommend a merger of Traverse City's and Grand Traverse Metro's fire departments seems to have eased tensions and created an opportunity for increased cooperation between the departments, officials said.

Consultants from Oregon-based Emergency Services Consulting International strongly recommended the two departments explore ways to share services and standardize their operations. The two agencies eventually might want to consider a marriage, but it's not something they should jump into right away, consultant Lane Wintermute told city and township officials this week.

"It is feasible to put the two organizations together, but we don't believe you are at the point you're ready to do that," Wintermute said. "You need to go through the dating process before you get married."

The Grand Traverse Metro Fire Authority Board, made up of representatives from East Bay, Acme, and Garfield townships, hired the firm to study the possibility of joining the two departments. Prior to the study the previous city commission expressed interest in disbanding the city fire department and joining Metro. Current commissioners appear to have less interest.

Long-term, a pairing could result in some operational efficiency and cost savings, Wintermute said. But call volume and emergency response times showed there would not be a major reduction in staff or elimination of fire stations. There would be no great cost savings to either department, he said.

Wintermute and Kent Greene, vice president of Emergency Services Consulting, encouraged both agencies to spend more time training together, standardizing procedures, and sharing services as part of their "dating process."

"It's very important," Greene said. "Both are functioning well, but ... both departments have services they could offer one another to present an enhanced level of service to the community."

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