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August 20, 2017
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Feb 10, 2014
Fire officials: Sigma Alpha Epsilon resident rescued from burning house was barely conscious Loading Photo Gallery 1 / 6 FratFire3.
Jan 26, 2013

Ann Arbor fire aftermath: 'I'm so grateful' about dog rescue and resident safety

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The converted apartment building at 401 S. Division on Saturday, the day after it was damaged by fire.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

An attempt to thaw frozen pipes started the fire that spread through a downtown Ann Arbor apartment building Friday night, fire officials said.

The fire at 401 S. Division displaced residents and prompted the rescue of two dogs, but resulted in no injuries, said Battalion Chief Randy Menard of the Ann Arbor Fire Department on Saturday.

A subcontractor for property manager Old Town Realty was using a very small version of a "salamander heater" to thaw the pipes, Menard said.

"It ignited a material that started a fire and traveled between the floors and walls," he said.

That worker immediately called 911 to report the fire, Menard said, and firefighters reached the building - a converted house of just under 3,000 square feet - by 6 p.m.

Three hours later, they'd stopped the blaze before the structure was destroyed. Menard also said many contents were saved, since smoke damage did not extend throughout the five-unit property.

However, at least part of the attic area of the building was damaged enough that the interior was left exposed on the south side of the property.

No residents or firefighters were injured, Menard added.

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AnnArbor.com reporter Ryan Stanton's dog, Stan, resting comfortably on a friend's couch about a few hours after being rescued Friday night.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

But the rescues of two pets remained at the forefront of the concern expressed by both residents and firefighters.

As firefighters arrived, "they were advised there were two pets inside," Menard said. "We sent in a crew to rescue them."

One of the dogs, Stan, is owned by apartment resident and AnnArbor.com reporter Ryan Stanton. He was on the scene quickly and took care of Stan.

The other, Moxie, belongs to University of Michigan graduate student Paige Safyer.

Moxie was rescued by firefighter Jason Gravelle, who also was in the news recently for his rescue of a cat during an Ypsilanti Township apartment fire.

Now Safyer - as she stays with friends and considers her next move until she can return to her apartment - is grateful that Moxie is safe. She plans to thank Gravelle for his effort to get her pet from the burning building.

She called him an "animal savior" and said she was so relieved that, after receiving a call about the fire, she found Moxie wrapped in a fire uniform in one of the rescue vehicles.

"I'm so grateful," she said.

Ann Williams of Old Town Realty said that she was headed back to the building by about noon Saturday. She was meeting clean up crews and an insurance claims adjuster, while also making plans to meet residents to find them temporary housing.

The American Red Cross also is assisting the eight residents with the temporary housing.

"We're glad to be safe, but worried about the difficulties involved with being displaced from a stable home for the upcoming semester," said Michael Kimiecik, a University of Michigan graduate student who lives in one of the upstairs units with two other graduate students.

The important thing, Williams said, is that "everyone is safe. People got out immediately."

The original need for the subcontractor on the site represents a common problem during the recent freeze, Williams said. Her company has responded to calls for at least eight other frozen pipes in recent days.

"We've never had this happen," she said of the fire.

City records indicate that the building's permit to be occupied as rental housing expired in June 2012. However, city officials also say that as long as a renewal appointment is made, an owner is not in violation. The building's stage in the renewal process was unclear on Saturday.

The owner of the property is Ouimet Group LLC, an entity registered to Mark Ouimet, former state representative in Michigan's 52nd district.

Ouimet said Saturday that his understanding is that requested work has been completed, and that Old Town was awaiting city re-inspection.

A damage estimate was not available on Saturday, Menard said. The property is valued at $614,000, based on the city assessment.

Residents are still assessing the damage to their contents, they said. Some were able to remove items late Friday.

Safyer said she's grateful to firefighters not just for their concern for her pet: Their actions to move contents out of the way of the blaze and cover them to stop the spread of the blaze also prevented more damage to her property.

"There could have been more damage," she said.

Moxie went to "doggie daycare" on Saturday while Safyer sorts out her next steps and plans to stay with friends in the short-term.

"It's pretty crazy," she said.

Ann Arbor fire crews were assisted on the scene by fire fighters from Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township.

The fire is the second campus-area apartment blaze to displace residents this month. On Jan. 13, a building in the 1300 block of Packard caught fire. City records indicated safety violations on its most recent inspection.


Jan 26, 2013

Fire breaks out at apartment house in downtown Ann Arbor; pets saved

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Firefighters battle the blaze at 401 S. Division in Ann Arbor Friday evening.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Smoke poured from a house in downtown Ann Arbor Friday evening as fire engines rushed to the scene.

The fire, which broke out shortly before 6 p.m., started in the basement, Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard said.

“(It) worked its way up the walls and got up into the attic,” he said.

As of 6:15 p.m., firefighters were still working to get it under control, though no flames were visible. There were no reported injuries.

“We got everyone out," Hubbard said. "We had a couple of animals, we got them out.”

Two dogs were reportedly rescued from the building.

The house is broken up into five apartment units, one in the basement, two on the main floor and two on the upper level. Seven tenants live in the building total.

Firefighters had closed Division Street between Jefferson Street and William Street as they fought the fire.

The cause was not immediately known.


Jan 25, 2013

Witnesses say ammunition ignited during Ann Arbor house fire

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Construction supplies lie on the ground as Ann Arbor firefighters check an opening next to the house and under a broken-out window after a house fire at 1800 block of Weldon Boulevard on Thursday.

Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com

One room was destroyed and a house suffered a lot of smoke damage when it caught fire in Ann Arbor Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

There were no reported injures.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department was called to the home in the 1800 block of Weldon Boulevard around 12:30 p.m. after a crew working at the house smelled smoke, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

One of the rooms in the ranch house was on fire and burned badly before firefighters had the blaze under control within about five to 10 minutes upon arrival, Vogel said.

A woman was evacuated from the house without injury.

There was a lot of damage to the home and the woman, who lives at the home with her husband, will not likely be able to stay there overnight, Vogel said.

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Ann Arbor firefighters back up a fire truck as they load up a hose after a house fire at 1800 block of Weldon Boulevard on Thursday.

Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com

Vogel was unsure if Red Cross had been contacted for assistance and said the residents will likely make their own arrangements.

Dave Barth, a laborer for Payeur Foundation, was working outside with a small crew to dig up and repair a portion of the water system when the crew noticed smoke. Barth said he went into the house and was startled to hear what he thought was ammunition going off in the room that had caught fire.

"I went in and saw the smoke," he said. "As soon as we opened the door, the ammunition went off."

Barth said it sounded like firecrackers, as did other members of his crew. Barth and the rest of his crew fled from the house with the homeowner.

"It was time to get out of there," Barth said.

Vogel said he couldn't say whether there was ammunition in the house, adding the investigation continues and that the cause of the fire is unknown at this point.


Jan 14, 2013

Police, firefighters rescue residents trapped in burning apartments in Ann Arbor

Editor's note: This article was updated at midnight with new information from the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

Police and firefighters rescued four people from a burning apartment building in Ann Arbor Sunday night, Ann Arbor Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said.

Ann Arbor police were first to the scene of the fire at 1310 Packard St. shortly after it was reported about 9:05 p.m.

Officers ran into the burning building and rescued a resident in a second-floor apartment, Cook said. Firefighters who arrived a short time later rescued three more people from the third floor, he said. Those residents had put towels over their heads to block smoke, Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard said.

Three of the residents and three police officers went to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, Cook said. Huron Valley Ambulance spokeswoman Joyce Williams said HVA paramedics took them in two ambulances to the University of Michigan Hospital. All were in stable condition, she said.

Hubbard praised the police and firefighters for their heroism in getting the residents to safety.

"You've got to make a difference," he said. "That's what we're trying to do. Make a difference in our community."

Heavy flames coming from the front of the building greeted firefighters when they arrived, Cook said.

The fire was mostly contained to two apartments on the west side of the three-story apartment building near Packard Street and Granger Avenue, firefighters said. Those apartments were declared a total loss, but all residents in the building were displaced. The building has six units, Cook said.

Firefighters had the blaze under control by 9:25 p.m., Cook said. They were packing up their hoses and equipment shortly before 11 p.m.

A fire investigator was beginning to look into the cause Sunday night, but it had yet not been determined.

All Ann Arbor units fought the fire, and firefighters from Ypsilanti and Pittsfield and Ypsilanti Townships provided mutual aid.

While firefighters were battling the blaze on Packard, a report came in of a woman suffering a possible heart attack on the northwest side of the city, Cook said. Ypsilanti firefighters who were battling the blaze on Packard Street responded to that call. The woman survived and was taken to a hospital, he said.

It was the second significant apartment fire in Washtenaw County in less than a week. A fire that started when grease caught fire on the kitchen stove caused extensive damage to a building at the Schooner Cove Apartment complex in Ypsilanti Township Monday afternoon. An Ann Arbor firefighter rescued two cats in the fire.


Jan 11, 2013

A major fire gutted a building at the Schooner Cove apartment complex Monday afternoon, displacing 12 families from their homes.

Firefighters were dispatched to the Ypsilanti Township apartment complex, off Huron River Drive near Tuttle Hill Road about 1 p.m. Monday. Ypsilanti Township Fire Chief Eric Copeland said the fire started in a second- or third-floor apartment at the front of the building.

Witnesses told AnnArbor.com a grease fire in a second-floor apartment started the fire, but Copeland said it’s not clear at this point what started the blaze.

“At this point, there is no determination,” Copeland said at 3 p.m. Monday. An investigator was on the way to the scene, he added.

Firefighters from Ypsilanti Township, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Augusta Township and Superior Township battled the blaze for most of the early afternoon Monday. At 1:30 p.m., the smoke from the blaze was so thick it was impossible to see the parking lot where firefighters set up their command station.

By 3 p.m., most of the blaze was extinguished and firefighters were working to knock down the remaining hot spots, Copeland said.

No one was injured in the fire and all the residents were evacuated. The American Red Cross said in a statement at least 12 families were affected by the fire and food and water was being provided to first responders on site.

Kelly Gorski, associate director of operations for McKinley, the company that owns the apartment complex, said all of the displaced residents had somewhere to stay Monday night thanks to the Red Cross. The company was also working with the residents to perhaps transfer them to other McKinley properties in the area.

Leo LeBron lives on the first floor of the building and said he was shaken from a nap by a woman running through the building, knocking on apartment doors and alerting residents to the fire.

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Smoke billows from the burning building at Schooner Cove.

Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com

“There wasn’t a fire alarm, there was a lady from another building banging on the doors, telling us to get out,” he said. “I was actually asleep at the time and she woke me up. I managed to get one of my cats out but one of them is still in there.”

LeBron wasn’t sure if his second cat made it through the fire but was hopeful. At one point, he actually rushed back into his apartment while firefighters worked to contain the swirling flames not far above his head.

“I ran back inside to try and find her, because they’re not going to do anything until they break the door down,” he said.

Most of the fire was contained to the top floors of the three-story, L-shaped building.

Ann Arbor firefighter Jason Gravelle rescued two cats from two different apartments in the building’s second and third floors. Two dogs also escaped harm in the blaze, one of which was carried to a Huron Valley Ambulance vehicle by a firefighter. There were other pets unaccounted for as of 3 p.m. Monday.

Approximately 40 firefighters were on scene, in addition to deputies from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and three units from Huron Valley Ambulance.

Neighbors and residents stood in the January cold, watching the firefighters dodge falling pieces of roof and siding while they fought the flames. Water poured out of the crevices of the building as fire crews battled the blaze.

Sean Elamon lives in the building immediately adjacent to the burning building 5086. He said he was keeping a close eye on the flames as they neared his building.

“It was pretty surreal,” he said, looking at the corner of the building where flames were shooting into the blue sky. “I was worried about this part of the building getting it by the other one. I was watching this part pretty closely because I didn’t want it to jump over.”


Jan 11, 2013

Fire heavily damages Ypsilanti duplex

A fire caused $45,000 in damage to one side of a duplex in the 400 block of Jefferson Street in Ypsilanti Tuesday night.

When dispatched at 11:06 p.m, Capt. Dan Cain said the Ypsilanti Fire Department was told there might be people inside of the house. After searching, firefighters determined the house was empty. There were no injuries. The owners of the house were on the scene and the fire was completely extinguished by 1:24 a.m.

There was no fire damage to the other side of the duplex, but there was significant smoke damage.

The cause of the fire still is under investigation.

Cain said mutual aid was provided by the Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti Township departments.


Nov 12, 2012

Illinois man rushed to hospital after dramatic crash, rescue near Michigan Stadium

A 61 year-old Illinois man who suffered a medical emergency at the wheel was rushed to the University of Michigan Hospital Saturday after bystanders pulled him from his vehicle and began administering CPR.

The incident happened around 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of Sunnyside and 7th Street, near Michigan Stadium. The man, who hails from Woodstock, Ill., was driving his daughter, 31, when he suffered a medical emergency — possibly a heart attack — at the wheel, said Ann Arbor Police Sgt. Mike Scherba.

After his vehicle struck a tree, bystanders in the area — including an off-duty firefighter and a physician — helped pull the man from the vehicle and began administering CPR. Fire rescue personnel then arrived and took over CPR and used an automated external defibrillator to restore breathing and a pulse, Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

Scherba said the man's daughter took the wheel and directed the vehicle into a tree to stop it after noticing her father's emergency.

"We've got the (Michigan-Northwestern) game letting out and how many thousands of people in the area. Probably a good call on her part," Scherba said.

The victim was taken to the U-M emergency room.


Nov 03, 2012

Eastbound I-94 closed Saturday morning near Ann Arbor after fatal crash

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Crews were removing a damaged vehicle from the I-94 crash scene at about 10 a.m. Saturday.

Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com

Michigan State Police are investigating a fatal crash on I-94 Saturday morning.

The incident also left two other people in critical condition, according to information from the Pittsfield Township Fire Department.

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's office alerted motorists that eastbound I-94 would be closed at Ann Arbor Saline Road starting at about 8:30 a.m. due to the accident investigation. It was reopened about 11:15 a.m.

The crash was reported just after 8 a.m. and it involved three vehicles, Pittsfield Township fire officials said.

One victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

"Two patients in (another) one of the vehicles were pinned in and required extended extrication," according to a news release.

Firefighters from Ann Arbor also responded to the scene.

Drivers in the area on Saturday morning reported extensive backups on I-94. The backups are believed to have been a result of Michigan Department of Transportation work on I-94 between US-23 and South State.

That work included both a ramp and single lane closure from midnight until 7 a.m. as MDOT employees installed a sign on a post that extended over the highway.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

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Rescue crews responded to the scene of the fatal crash Saturday morning.

Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com

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The crash on I-94 on Saturday morning closed the eastbound lanes of I-94 for more than an hour.


Nov 03, 2012

Fire damages condominium near Huron High School in Ann Arbor

Editor's note: This amount of damage has been corrected in this article based on new information from firefighters.

A fire caused heavy damage to a condominium unit near Huron High School on the east side of Ann Arbor Tuesday afternoon.

The fire broke out sometime just before 4 p.m. at the Heritage Ridge condominium complex off Huron Parkway north of Geddes Avenue.

Firefighters encountered flames when they entered the building, one of about 15 stand-alone condominiums in the complex. They had the blaze under control within about half an hour but were not able to save it.

Crews were first dispatched to the fire at 3:47 p.m., according to officials.

The Washtenaw-Livingston Chapter of the American Red Cross was assisting the residents, believed to be a couple in their 70s.

Update at 5:44 p.m.

There was light smoke showing when crews from the Ann Arbor Fire Department arrived soon after the initial call came in, Chief Chuck Hubbard said.

"They went to the front door and flames met them there," he added. "They pushed them back. The fire moved really fast because of the high winds."

Around 30 firefighters from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township used water on the fire and had it out in about a half hour. Huron Valley Ambulance responded, but no one was transported to the hospital.

"(The tenants) got out OK," Hubbard said. They were being attended to at a nearby condominium unit by Red Cross as fire crews cleared the scene Tuesday evening.

The condo was burned all the way up through the attic and suffered heavy damage to the kitchen, living room and den. Other areas of the home were also damaged. The cause was unknown Tuesday night.

Neighbor Jeanette Carr said she discovered the fire as she was coming home Tuesday evening.

"I turned into my driveway and the owner of this condo next door ran at me and he said they just drove in from Pennsylvania," Carr said. "I guess they drove through (the) storm all day yesterday. He said, 'Our phones are out and my house is on fire.' Indeed, by then it was."

Neighbors and fire officials weren't sure if the couple came straight home from a long trip to find the fire, or if they had gotten home earlier and the fire broke out afterwards. Carr said the couple came home in the "late afternoon."

"We're a very close knit neighborhood," said complex resident Arlene Shy, who shivered alongside Carr outside the condos in low-40s temperatures as they waited for crews to clear the scene because Carr was not yet allowed back in her home. "We all know each other very well and support each other. It's a shock."

Both women were pleased with the rapid response of firefighters.

"I made the 911 call and all the trucks in about four and a half minutes," Carr said. "They got here quickly."


Oct 25, 2012

Small kitchen fire in senior apartment complex results in 1 minor injury

The Ann Arbor Fire Department was dispatched at 6:58 p.m. Wednesday to the sixth-floor Lurie Terrace Senior Apartments at 600 W. Huron Street.

Batallion Chief on duty Kevin Cook said the fire department arrived in 2 1/2 minutes and put out a kitchen fire in a few minutes.

Cook said there was one minor injury due to smoke inhalation, but they were able to evacuate the smoke through the elevator shaft in about 20 minutes.

"Older folks live at this facility, so it could have been a lot more dangerous situation than it was," Cook said.

As of now, the damage done to the apartment is unclear.


May 13, 2011

Rescue workers free man hit by train and trapped under engine; extent of injuries unclear

Posted: Fri, May 13, 2011 : 10:21 a.m.
A man was struck by a train hauling cargo in Ann Arbor early this morning, but it's not clear how badly he was injured, firefighters said.

The man was on the tracks about 4:45 a.m. when the train hit him on the overpass on North Main Street, a press release from the Ann Arbor Fire Department said. The man became trapped under the front of the engine, the release said.

Five of the city's six fire trucks as well as police and Huron Valley Ambulance workers rushed to the scene. Police determined the man was breathing, and firefighters and ambulance workers freed him from under the train. According to the press release, firefighters used a ladder truck to lower him to the ground from the bridge. He was able to move his arms and was talking with rescuers, firefighters said.

Huron Valley Ambulance took the man to the University of Michigan Hospital, but no information on his condition was available.

Fire Battalion Chief Steven Lowe said it is not clear why the man was on the tracks, and he did not have information on how rescue crews managed to free him.


May 13, 2011

Residents put out trash can fire at Ann Arbor senior apartments

Posted: Fri, May 13, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.
 

Residents of Parkway Meadows on Ann Arbor's north side extinguished a trash can fire Friday morning, Ann Arbor Fire Department officials said.

Firefighters were called to the apartments at about 6:28 a.m. Friday, and when they arrived they found fire alarms activated and smoke filling the 2nd floor from a fire in a trash can in a common area.

Residents has just applied water to the fire, according to a news release, and fire crews cleared the building of smoke.

A wall near the trash can was damaged, with the estimated cost about $1,000.

According to the news release, the smoke detector played a key role in keeping the incident from escalating.

However, fire fighters also cautioned that while the people who put out the fire averted a tragedy, they also put themselves at risk.

Fire officials cautioned that anyone trying to put out a fire needs training in the use of a fire extinguisher and also needs to stay between the fire and an exit


May 11, 2011

Student and employee groups ask University of Michigan to try to stop cuts to Ann Arbor Fire Department

Posted: Tue, May 10, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

A coalition of student and employee organizations at the University of Michigan is lobbying for the university to help the city of Ann Arbor avoid deep cuts to the city's fire department.

With 12 positions slated for elimination in the fire department over the next two years, U-M students and employees are requesting that President Mary Sue Coleman, the Board of Regents and Provost Philip Hanlon take steps to intervene.

"We believe that the university needs to intervene to prevent further reductions in service," the letter reads. "It would be unconscionable for the University of Michigan to stand by and allow this trend to continue. We do not want a tragedy to be the trigger for the university taking action while the ongoing safety of U of M students and employees is put at risk."

 

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Deep cuts are proposed to the Ann Arbor Fire Department, and students and employees want the University of Michigan to intervene.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

The letter is signed by the leaders of six different unions and two student organizations, including the U-M Central Student Government, Lecturers’ Employee Organization, Graduate Employees’ Organization, U-M Professional Nurse Council, International Union of Electrical Workers, U-M Skilled Trades, Students Organized for Labor & Economic Equality and AFSCME #1583.

 

 

 

The Ann Arbor City Council meets on Monday to consider the city budget, though it appears likely a vote won't happen, and the meeting will be continued to a date to be determined later this month.

The letter does not specifically ask that the university kick in funding, but rather asks that university leaders "immediately use all the political influence you have" in Ann Arbor and in the state Legislature to prevent further budget cuts to the fire department.

"We're letting them figure out how to work this out," said Bonnie Halloran, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization at U-M. "We know they already own one of the fire stations. We know some of this has to do with money coming from the state, and some of it is about Ann Arbor city politics, so it's whatever they deem necessary."

Halloran said the university's physical properties — valued at more than $5 billion and including more than 33 million square feet of building space — are important state investments and ought to be protected with appropriate fire prevention services.

According to information supplied by the firefighters union, it now takes almost six minutes on average for one fire engine to get to the scene of an emergency.

"The risk to life and property are enormous," the union claims in a statement appended to the letter to U-M. "In the past 10 years, there have been numerous fires in off campus neighborhoods that have resulted in fatalities, 'near misses' where students have had to jump from windows or roof tops to escape a fire, and total loss fires involving fraternity houses."

 

 

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com

 


May 09, 2011

Mother and son OK but blame Mother's Day fire rescue in Ann Arbor on unattended cigarette

Posted: Mon, May 9, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.
 

 

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Kenneth Rutledge, 50, and his mom, Paula, 79, sit in their living room Monday. Ann Arbor firefighters pulled them from a west side Ann Arbor home following a Sunday morning fire that started in a mattress upstairs.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

 

A day after an elderly mother and her disabled son were rescued by firefighters from their Ann Arbor home, the pair are back in their home with no ill effects.

Kenneth Rutledge said he regrets leaving an unattended burning cigarette in an ashtray, but he's also happy that he and his mother are OK.

"It’s my fault," he said. "When I put it in the ashtray, I expected it to stay there. It didn’t."

[While initial estimates of the cause of the fire indicated smoking in bed may have caused the fire at 1121 Birk, Rutledge, 50, said that's not the case: Instead, a pet cat knocked an ashtray with a lit cigarette onto the bed Sunday morning while he was nearby.

The pair first tried to extinguish a smoldering mattress themselves. Rutledge and his mother, Paula, 79, used a fire extinguisher and doused the bed with canisters of water.

Rutledge, who can't walk due to neuropathy, said they stopped some of the smoldering, but couldn’t get the mattress out of the house and the room was filled with smoke. That’s when she called 911.

Five Ann Arbor Fire Department trucks and 16 firefighters responded at 9 a.m. to the single-family home at 1121 Birk Ave., near Pauline Boulevard and South 7th Street on Ann Arbor’s said Robert Vogel, battalion chief.

The fire department got a handle on the situation within 10 minutes and pulled Paula and Kenneth Rutledge out of the home. They remained at the scene for about an hour.

Rutledge said he declined transport to a local hospital after paramedics found no evidence of smoke inhalation. His mother left the room when it got too smoky, he said, and did not receive medical treatment, either.

“There were no flames,” Rutledge said. “We just had a lot of smoke.”

Firefighters dragged the mattress outside and doused it with water, Rutledge said.

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A mattress was burned Sunday after a cat knocked an unattended ashtray containing a lit cigarette onto it. The home's occupants tried to extinguish the smoldering mattress.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

“The best I can do is crawl, he said. "Neuropathy is deadness of the nerves, a loss of motor function control. My brain says go but my legs won’t do it.”

 

If anything, the lesson to be learned is to never leave cigarettes unattended, Rutledge said, especially around pets. He said he thinks Gizmo, his favorite cat, knocked the ashtray over, probably with its tail. A half hour later, he noticed it was smoldering and saw the ashtray upside down on the bed.

Gizmo and two other cats who live at the home are OK, he said.

Kenneth added that his father, who died in 2009, is a retired Ann Arbor firefighter.

He and his mother now take care of each other.

“It’s a team effort,” he said.

Vogel said damage was contained within the upstairs bedroom where the fire started.

Damage is estimated to be $20,000 to $22,000, an insurance adjuster told the family, Rutledge said.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at julianakeeping@annarbor.com


May 20, 2010

Ann Arbor firefighters union disputes chief's claim that response times won't be affected by cuts

 

Posted: May 20, 2010 at 6:00 AM [Today]


 

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Ann Arbor fire Capt. Tim Flack, left, chats with Fire Chief Dominick Lanza at the downtown station on Wednesday afternoon. The firefighters union is disputing Lanza's assertion that the department has enough firefighters to meet state and national standards even with the loss of five more positions.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

 

The Ann Arbor Fire Department will see its ranks decrease by five positions starting July 1 under budget cuts approved this week, but the impact of that remains to be seen.

Fire Chief Dominick Lanza told the City Council on Monday the reduction is small enough that it will be manageable. He said the city still will be able to put at least four firefighters on the scene of a fire as quickly as it does today.

He also said the city will be able to put 18 firefighters on the scene of a working fire within eight minutes, which is required to meet state and national standards.

But members of the IAFF Local 693 firefighters union now are disputing those assertions, saying the department already does not meet the state and national standards for response times with its existing staff of 94 full-time employees.

"We're a substandard fire department right now," said Lt. Craig Ferris, who believes the chief presented false information. "We want to get the right information out there. We can't have someone stating things that aren't true. When a person stands up in front of City Council and the mayor and says things that are that inaccurate, and in the end are leading to cuts in the fire department, we have to take a stand."

Union officials met with Lanza on Wednesday morning to relay a report they prepared showing the department's current abilities to respond to fires based on data from recent runs and GIS analysis.

The GIS analysis, conducted in 2008, reveals the department's best response provides for 17 firefighters in under eight minutes in just 24.8 percent of the city. The union claims the department has not had the ability to send 18 firefighters to the scene of a fire in less than eight minutes since 2003 and that it provided that information to Lanza in March.

Based on an analysis of recent call data, the union's report claims that the quickest time to assemble 18 firefighters at the scene of a fire was 11 minutes.

The national standard for putting 18 firefighters on a scene in under eight minutes comes from the National Fire Protection Association and is known as NFPA 1710.

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From left, Dwauna Sharper, Skye Bryant, Sean Dobbins, 6, and Deborah Byrant watch as Ann Arbor firefighter Tim Karolak demonstrates how to use his gear during a tour of the downtown station on Wednesday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Having four firefighters on a scene is a separate rule adopted by the department. That's the minimum number of firefighters required on scene to enter a burning building if someone is believed to be trapped inside. The union's data shows it has taken an average of 6.7 minutes to put five firefighters on a scene.

Lanza, who has been on the job two months, said he's going to closely examine the data presented by the union members and meet with them next week.

"They have voiced to me their concern that we are perhaps lacking in the amount of times that we have an 18-person response and I am taking those numbers and reviewing them," he said. "I believe we are meeting the standards. However, that's subject to review."

Lanza acknowledged there are certain times when it takes longer than eight minutes to put 18 firefighters on the scene of a fire, but that doesn't happen on every occasion.

"What I have to look at is how frequently that occurs and there's always going to be outliers no matter what you're dealing in," he said. "Response times are basically based on fire station locations and where the apparatus is when they get the call."

Based on data he has seen, Lanza said the department's average response time is under six minutes. That's the time it takes to get the first vehicle on the scene of an emergency, starting from the time the trucks leave the station.

Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters union, said he's disappointed that the city is pushing ahead with layoffs he thinks will jeopardize pubic safety. He thinks the layoffs can be avoided through other cost savings.

"We think there's money within the fire department to maintain our staffing," he said. "We think we can come up with some more savings that could save the three or four jobs that are left out in the open and we'd like to have some more conversation about that money and we'd like to save those jobs that are still looming."

While five positions are being eliminated, Lanza said the net result of the cuts likely will be three or four layoffs since one of the positions is vacant and Lanza is discussing plans for a potential restructuring of the department. There also are several firefighters eligible for retirement that could hang up their hats to help avoid layoffs altogether.

"That's a personal decision that they have to make and currently there's not an incentive to do that," Lanza said. "The city's not in a financial posture to do a buyout."

Even with five positions gone, Lanza said he feels strongly that the department will be able to maintain its current levels of service — albeit minimally.

"Anytime you reduce the number of people performing a job, it's not that the job's not going to get done," he said. "It's that it will take either more resources or a greater length of time to accomplish. There's going to be different measurable effects and that's all to be looked at and we are going to be looking at it."

Lanza held a meeting with firefighters on Wednesday to discuss the future of the department. He told them to expect changes to how business is done. He also announced plans for more community involvement initiatives — such as educational programs that will put firefighters in schools — to better educate the public about the role and value of the fire department.

In response to a recent fatal fire on State Street, Lanza said he also is going to be proposing a citywide ban on upholstered furniture on porches. He also is in the process or preparing a series of public service announcements.

"Whatever we can do to protect the citizens," he said. "It's a change in mindset, a new paradigm. And hopefully when we take these actions, it'll lessen the amount of serious fires that we will have where people could suffer losses or injuries."

Lanza said he's looking forward to sitting down with the union to talk about those ideas and more next week and hopefully reach common ground.

"We are going to sit down and go over some options we have to maintain the number of personnel that we have, but maybe do things more efficiently and cost effectively," he said. "Because there's a danger that we're going to face this problem again next year — not just in the fire department, but in the city in general — unless revenues turn around."

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The firefighters union presented this GIS analysis conducted in 2008 that revealed the department's best response provides for 17 firefighters in under eight minutes in just 24.8 percent of the city, failing to meet national standards.


May 13, 2010

Police and fire chiefs express concerns about looming cuts to public safety in Ann Arbor

Posted: May 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM [Today]

After months of discussion, the Ann Arbor City Council stands poised to make a decision Monday on the city's budget for the next fiscal year.

And how council members vote ultimately will determine the fate of police and fire protection services starting in July.

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Fire Chief Dominick Lanza said he's working under the pretense that cuts to the fire department are going to take effect in July.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Mayor John Hieftje said he's still hoping to avoid deep cuts. He and Council Member Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, plan to bring amendments forward.

"Our goal is to eliminate or at the least minimize any layoffs in police and fire," Hieftje said. "We will be asking council to support an amendment to the administrator's budget that will eliminate layoffs in the police department. We are still working on the details of the fire department section of the amendment, but we will surely ask council to support an amendment that keeps the fire stations open and maintains current response times and rescue capabilities in the event of a fire."

If the council can't come to agreement, City Administrator Roger Fraser's budget recommendations will stand. And that includes eliminating 20 positions in the fire department and 20 positions in the police department starting in July.

That's a scenario that would have major implications for public safety services in Ann Arbor, the city's police and fire chiefs both said this week.

Police Chief Barnett Jones said the cuts would take 12 sworn police officers out of service. That would reduce the number of officers assigned to traffic control from five to one and completely eliminate the department's five-member Community Response Unit, while the number of officers on general patrol would drop from 64 to 61.

"We will go from a proactive police department to a reactive police department," Jones said, noting he has worked to shift officers from desk jobs to patrol but is running out of officers to reassign.

The Fire Department

Fire Chief Dominick Lanza said he's working under the pretense that Fraser's recommended budget will take effect.

"And we're going to have to deal with the cuts that are recommended in the budget for this year," he said. "And in doing so, it is 20 full-time employee positions, one of which is a vacant position, so it's actually 19 persons. And those number of people would require at this time the closing of one fire station."

Lanza said much of what happens also depends on the outcome of collective bargaining, which is going on right now with the firefighters union.

"If we were forced to close that one fire station, my recommendation would be that we go to what's known in the business as a 'rolling blackout' in the fire department," Lanza said. "And what that is is rather than showing disparate coverage in specific areas of the city, we would always keep the central station open because that is the center of the city. And then on a rotating basis — either every 12 hours or every 24 hours, on a schedule — close a fire station."

The city has four fire stations in addition to the central station downtown, including one by Briarwood Mall, one by the University of Michigan, one by Arborland Mall and one on Jackson Avenue on the city's west side near I-94.

"What's going to happen if we close one of those fire stations is, on a given day, if the fire station in your neighborhood happens to be the one that's closed, you're going to experience a lengthier response time," Lanza said. "Fire multiplies very rapidly, and the quicker we can get there the more effective we are in stopping the loss, so in order not to — for lack of a better term — 'pick on your neighborhood,' we have to spread that risk equally throughout the community."

Lanza said residents could see insurance rates go up.

National and state standards for fire protection call for having 18 firefighters on the scene of a working fire within eight minutes, which some members of the fire department claim won't be met if the cuts go into effect.

"We currently have the ability to put 19 people at every fire scene on any given day," Lanza said. "That's as long as we only have one fire going. If we have two, we have to rely on assistance from other agencies that surround us."

Lanza said he supports the concept of regional cooperation on fire services, something Fraser also has championed. But he said it's less reliable when other communities surrounding Ann Arbor are stressed for resources.

"Ypsilanti Township just had a proposal passed by their council where they're going to be doing a buyout and reducing their workforce," Lanza said. "Ypsilanti city is in the process of looking at cuts also. Ann Arbor Township is not looking at cuts. However, their workforce is already so small. They only have one person per day on each of their two fire trucks, and then they have what's called 'paid on-call.' When the alarm comes in, those people are assumed to respond, but there's no guarantee. They have 40 of them and you could get 10 on a given day or you could get none."

If the fire department's numbers are cut back, Lanza said the city needs to make sure any mutual aid agreements are carefully crafted.

"I'm very concerned that the city of Ann Arbor, unless we plan it correctly ... we could come out on the short end of those kind of deals because everybody else is in even far worse condition than we are," he said. "Even if we reduce our workforce, others are going to be reducing. We're currently the largest fire department in Washtenaw County, and we still would be after reductions."

The Police Department

The Ann Arbor Police Department has been scaled back from 191 to 124 sworn officers since 2001 — a 35 percent reduction.

"There's been a lot of concern in the community that a reduction in force would result in insecurity for the community members," said Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward. "One particular concern I've heard voiced is that there would be a lack of response if people called the police and said there had been a break-in or there had been a robbery at their home."

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Police Chief Barnett Jones said response times could be longer if police officers are laid off.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

With the department scaled back, Jones said flexibility will be lost, and certain crimes will have to take priority over others. For example, if there are multiple calls for service at the same time, response times could be longer.

"If another big thing happens while we're handling the 'big thing,' we've got less officers to respond," he said. "Also note that (Community Response Unit) is gone, traffic is gone, so there's no officers filling the back door. I can attempt to spread them out as much as I can, but less officers mean longer response times."

Hieftje said he's interested in keeping the police department proactive instead of reactive, and that includes keeping CRU.

"I recall a few years ago when we had a problem, there were some people in town that were performing some muggings in the campus area," he said. "We put the CRU on that and, within just a couple of months, that was brought to a halt."

The City Council's ability to avoid some cuts to police and fire depends largely on whether the council accepts a $2 million transfer from the Downtown Development Authority. But the job eliminations in police and fire are targeted at trimming $3.6 million, so $2 million might not go as far as some hope.

"If the money is not approved, then we go through with the targeted reductions, which puts less police officers on the street," Jones said, noting there currently are as many as seven to 14 officers on patrol per shift.

Jones said the department also has 22 officers on special assignment. With the exception of those in traffic patrol and CRU, the rest currently don't face cuts. That includes three school liaison officers, two transport officers, two in-service detective officers, one officer assigned to the countywide narcotics team, one officer assigned to AATA, one property officer, one training officer and one court officer.

Jones said most crimes in Ann Arbor are crimes of opportunity, and with Ann Arbor being a "have" community, it's a target in Michigan's bad economy.

"We're a safe community, we're a great community," he said. "So people move here and they relax here, and they enjoy the lifestyle here. And that means that they don't lock their doors, they don't lock their cars, they don't put the garage door down.

"What we need to do is secure our community a little bit more, get the word out about locking the doors, cutting back the bushes, turning on some outside lights," he said. "And if we can keep the crimes of opportunity down to a minimum, we can make it safer in our community overall."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com


May 09, 2010

Ann Arbor home suffers smoke damage after fire

 

Posted: May 8, 2010 at 5:41 PM [May 8, 2010]

A fire on the 500 block of Soule Boulevard in Ann Arbor has left a home with heavy smoke damage but structurally sound, according to the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

Acting Battalion Chief Amy Brow said firefighters got the call at 2:07 p.m. Saturday and arrived on the scene, south of Liberty Street and east of Stadium Boulevard, to find a two-story home with smoke coming out of its upstairs windows.

Brow said there were flames in one of the bedrooms where the fire started, and smoke spread throughout the rest of the upstairs. She said firefighters were able to put the fire out by 2:21.

Brow said the home’s occupants, a couple and their two children, were able to get out of the home safely with no injuries.

She said she believes the house is structurally sound, but said the upstairs suffered significant smoke and heat damage.

“They won’t be able to stay there,” she said.

She said the cause of the fire is under investigation but arson is not suspected.


May 04, 2010

Ann Arbor firefighters organize protest in response to city's proposal to cut 20 positions

Topics: Government, News

Posted: May 4, 2010 at 4:02 AM [Today]

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Firefighters picketed outside of the downtown fire station in protest of the city of Ann Arbor's proposal to eliminate 20 firefighters' jobs in July.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Matt Schroeder says a house fire on South State Street that killed a 22-year-old college student last month still haunts Ann Arbor firefighters.

"That fire has impacted a lot of us guys for the rest of our lives and we don't want to see that happen ever again," he said. "It impacted me to know that life is fragile and that we needed everybody on that scene."

About three dozen firefighters from Ann Arbor and other parts of the state picketed outside the downtown fire station on Monday, protesting pending layoffs in the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

The firefighters union hosted the informational picket to raise public awareness of the city's plans to potentially lay off 20 firefighters in July to help close a gap in the 2010-11 budget.

"We're out here today to try to let the citizens know what impact losing firefighters would have on the citizens and our ability to provide them with service," said Schroeder, union president. "We believe that the fire department's treated unfairly with us expected to take a 15 percent cut in our funding. And actually we're going to have a 22 percent loss in our ability to provide service."

The picket continued into Monday evening's Ann Arbor City Council meeting. Several firefighters made their way across the street to city hall to attend a public hearing on the city's 2010-11 budget where public safety was on the minds of many residents who spoke.

The council will vote on the budget on May 17, but it was announced Monday night that there may be amendments to save the jobs of police officers and firefighters.

Firefighters drove in from cities throughout the region to march in Monday's picket line. Some came from fire departments in Flint, Battle Creek, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Lincoln Park, Taylor, Ann Arbor Township and Ypsilanti.

Andre Doser and Shaun Kelly, both firefighters from Battle Creek, carried signs that read: "Support your firefighters. The life they save may be yours."

"We had nine guys laid off in our own city," Doser said. "We're actually two of the nine that were laid off and we just wanted to make sure that it doesn't happen to other cities. Since they laid off nine guys a week ago, they've had our truck out of service and it's kind of put us in a tight spot for commercial fires. It's just reduced the fire protection for our city."

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Firefighters march up and down South Fifth Avenue in front of the downtown Ann Arbor fire station across the street from city hall.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

"When we were out picketing, we had some other cities come out and support us, so we want to do the same to make sure that nobody has the same fate that we got in Battle Creek," Kelly said. "If this can help and maybe prevent that, that's why we're here."

Michael O'Hearon, an attorney who represents firefighters across the state of Michigan, criticized Ann Arbor city leaders.

"If I were on the City Council, I'd be kind of embarrassed that a city like Ann Arbor is closing fire stations and laying off firefighters while they're spending money on contractors to build up nice offices," he said. "The priorities certainly need to be readjusted."

Steven Heim, a firefighter from Lincoln Park, said there are talks of cutting firefighters in his city, too.

"We're out here to support our brothers," he said. "We understand their fight and are here to back them. We're facing the same thing from where we're at. The state's in hard time, so we've been faced with the same talk of cuts and reductions in manpower and the citizens need us more than ever."

Members of the IAFF Local 693 firefighters union in Ann Arbor say the proposed cuts to the fire department would reduce the ability to not only fight fires, but also provide other vital functions — such as protecting the environment from hazardous materials releases, protecting citizens from downed electrical lines during storms, rescuing canoeists from the river, and performing life-saving emergency medical services.

There currently are a minimum of 18 firefighters on duty across the city’s five stations. In addition to eliminating six firefighters from each shift, the department's only 95-foot ladder truck would come out of service, the union claims.

Support functions within the department also would be cut. The union claims the chief is planning to eliminate one of two assistant chief positions. They say he also is planning to eliminate the department’s only mechanic who, in addition to coordinating all testing and repairs on the department's vehicles, is responsible for repairing all portable equipment, coordinating maintenance and ensuring life safety equipment operates in compliance with state regulations.

National standards require that a fire department be capable of delivering 15 firefighters to a scene of a house fire within 8 minutes of being dispatched. A study conducted in 2008 revealed that the Ann Arbor Fire Department was capable of meeting that goal in only about 61 percent of the city, and only if all the trucks are in their stations and not out responding to other calls.

The firefighters union claims the map below shows that the department already is not meeting those safety goals in residential areas on the outskirts of the city with the current staffing.

fire_map.png

Since 2002, seven citizens have died in fires in Ann Arbor. During the same time period, 13 more people have been rescued from their homes by firefighters, and 10 more citizens have had to jump from roofs and windows before any firefighters could get to them.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or


May 03, 2010

Ann Arbor Firefighters Local 693 is in need of support for an informational picket to prevent layoffs to our firefighters and educate citizens about the impact layoffs would have to them. Local 693 members will meet supporters at Fire Station 1 on Monday, May 3, beginning at 5:00pm, located at the corner of N. Fifth Ave and Ann Street with the picket to begin thereafter until 7:30pm. There is a public hearing that evening beginning at 7:00pm. The city administrator has proposed cutting 20 firefighters from our staffing which would greatly impact our ability to operate in an effective manner.

Fraternally,
Matt Schroeder
President Ann Arbor Firefighters Local 693
 
 


May 03, 2010

Fire damages garage in Ann Arbor

Posted: May 3, 2010 at 7:49 AM [Today]

Ann Arbor firefighters quickly extinguished a blaze in a garage Sunday afternoon on the city's southeast side.

Firefighters were called at 12:16 p.m. Sunday to the 3100 block of Rosedale Street near Packard and Platt roads, where the homeowners said they had heard an explosion, a Fire Department press release said.

Firefighters found smoke and fire in a two-car garage. They attacked it with two hose lines and had it under control by 12:26 p.m., the press release said.

The garage door had been dislodged from its track. The cause is under investigation, Damage is estimated at $20,0000.

 


Apr 24, 2010

South State Street in Ann Arbor reopens following stove fire in basement apartment

Posted: Apr 24, 2010 at 10:53 PM [Today]

Ann Arbor firefighters said a pan left burning on a stove filled a basement apartment with smoke tonight on South State Street in the area of Yost Arena. There were no reported injuries.

State Street was blocked off as firefighters extinguished the fire and cleared the apartment of smoke. The street was reopened by 10:30 p.m.

A witness said there were at least five fire trucks at the scene, along with other emergency vehicles.

Authorities have been on alert after a series of apparent arson fires involving parked cars in the campus area in recent weeks.

In addition, a 22-year-old Eastern Michigan University student died and another person was burned in an apartment fire three weeks ago on South State Street. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of that fire and don't know if it was connected to the car fires.


Apr 23, 2010

House fire injures 3 Ann Arbor firefighters; father, child jump from roof to safety

Posted: Apr 23, 2010 at 7:50 AM [Today]

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An Ann Arbor fire inspector photographs a house severely damaged by fire in the 2500 block of Georgetown Boulevard in Ann Arbor this morning.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com

A father and his 6-year-old daughter jumped to safety from the roof of a burning house in Ann Arbor early this morning, and three firefighters were injured fighting the blaze. The mother and a 3-year-old boy fled through the front door.

Flames were engulfing the two-story home in the 2500 block of Georgetown Boulevard on the city's north side when Ann Arbor firefighters arrived shortly after receiving a call at 1 a.m., Fire Chief Dominick Lanza said. They were able to bring the fire under control within about an hour and prevented the fire from spreading to houses on either side.

One firefighter was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital for evaluation of a minor arm injury, Lanza said. Two other firefighters were treated at the scene by Huron Valley Ambulance for burns to the face.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Fire investigators were at the home this morning. It has been declared a total loss.

"The structure is still standing but the majority of the second floor was fairly well consumed," Lanza said. A damage estimate has not been established.

Lanza said a loud noise woke the mother, who then woke up her husband. By that time, the family saw smoke, and the mother and 3-year-old fled out the front door. The father went to wake the 6-year-old, but by that time, heat and smoke were blocking the way to the door, so they went out a bedroom window. Lanza said they had made it off the roof by the time firefighters arrived.

All six Ann Arbor Fire Department units fought the blaze with 19 firefighters on the scene, Lanza said. The Washtenaw County Red Cross brought beverages to the scene for the firefighters.

 


Apr 23, 2010
 

Police and firefighters unions endorse Patricia Lesko in Ann Arbor mayoral race

 
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Ann Arbor mayoral candidate Patricia Lesko, who is running against incumbent John Hieftje in the Aug. 3 primary, has backing from the police and firefighters unions.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor mayoral candidate Patricia Lesko has announced support for her campaign from the city's police and firefighters unions — key endorsements that indicate the unions favor a change in the city's leadership.

This marks the first time in Mayor John Hieftje's decade-long reign that any challenger of his has been endorsed by either union.

The Ann Arbor Police Officers Association is throwing its support behind Lesko's candidacy, and so is the IAFF Local 693 firefighters union.

Two police union leaders — officers Sam James and Dawn King —  as well as firefighters union president Matt Schroeder and members of his executive committee, joined Lesko at a campaign kick-off event earlier this week.

“Ms. Lesko’s candidacy represents a much-needed and crucial change in leadership in our city government," Schroeder said. "We believe that with her in office, Ann Arbor citizens will have an elected leader who’s committed to protecting their health, welfare and safety."

When she launched her campaign in February, Lesko said there would be no more union negotiations by "public humiliation" or "empty threats of layoffs" under her leadership. Lesko, who runs the blog A2Politico.com, has advocated for protecting public safety ever since deep cuts in police and fire were announced to balance the city's 2010-11 budget.

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Mayor John Hieftje spoke at a town hall meeting this month. On police cuts, he noted crime in the city is going down. On fire cuts, he said the city still would do everything it can to have an adequate number of firefighters on the scene.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

The firefighters particularly have been frustrated with city officials ever since their union agreed to concessions earlier this year — only to have city officials turn around and propose even more cuts in the department than before.

Hieftje issued a call in December to have union members step up and agree to a 3 percent wage cut to help avoid layoffs. The firefighters agreed to a 3 percent pay cut and a 1 percent increase in contributions toward pension costs. At the time, 14 firefighters' jobs were on the chopping block; now the number has grown to 20 in the proposed 2010-11 budget.

"These are the people we count on to save our lives and property," Lesko said. "We must negotiate all union contracts in the best interest of the taxpayer, but we must also partner with our unionized employees.”

Hieftje has noted he and the City Council ultimately will have the final say on the budget, and what's being proposed by City Administrator Roger Fraser isn't necessarily going to be approved without changes by council.

Hieftje has said he would like to protect public safety from cuts, stating recently he believes Ann Arbor can't afford to lose a single police officer. But he also has said cuts to police and fire are hard to avoid when they make up half the city's budget, and the city faces unprecedented revenue challenges.

Hieftje touched a nerve with members of the police and firefighters unions recently by arguing they've been difficult to negotiate with because of Public Act 312, a state law that provides for a mandatory arbitration process that Hieftje claims unfairly gives an advantage to the unions in negotiations.

Lesko is running as a Democrat against Hieftje in the Aug. 3 primary. The winner faces independent challenger Steve Bean, chairman of the city's Environmental Commission, in the November general election.

Since she could be involved in contract negotiations with the unions, as well as vote on those contracts, Lesko said she is not taking money from either union.

Lesko has waged a campaign heavily critical of Hieftje, calling for a refocusing of city government on its core mission, including funding police and fire.

“The job of local government is to provide services," Lesko said. "The current administration is gambling with life and property. On any given day, there are only 6 to 10 sworn police officers patrolling the 27.7 miles of Ann Arbor. Our remaining five fire stations are staffed with enough firefighters to respond to exactly one major fire or accident in a city with a major research university, 112,000 residents, and 45,000 private residences. Losing more police and firefighters increases the probability of loss of life and property."

Lesko said any additional public safety cuts mean that Ann Arbor residents and business owners will face auto, homeowner and business insurance rate hikes.

“The current administration has repeatedly created phantom deficits by budgeting multimillion-dollar surpluses to certain departments, such as fleet, IT, solid waste, water and sewer," she said. "Then they’ve dealt with the so-called 'deficits' by cutting services, recreational programs, police and fire — as we see in the most recent budget. Since 2003, the current administration has decimated our police and fire departments to fuel a building spree and feed a bureaucracy that has been allowed to grow virtually unchecked."

 


Apr 18, 2010

April 17, 2010 - 7:10pm

Authorities investigating 'second night of suspicious fires' in Ann Arbor

By: Dylan Cinti and Jacob Smilovitz

Jake Fromm/Daily

Authorities are investigating a second night of “suspicious fires” in Ann Arbor last night, this time at four off-campus locations, according to a crime alert released this morning.

Two fires were reported in the 700 block of South Forest Avenue, one in the 900 block of Church Street, and another in the 100 block of Oakland Avenue.

All of the fires are said to involve vehicles, and no structures were impacted last night, the crime alert states.

In an interview today, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said the first fire was reported at about 1:45 a.m. Brown said all four fires occurred within the span of one hour, with the last taking place at roughly 2:45 a.m.

Brown emphasized that while DPS is not directly involved in the ongoing investigations, officials are concerned about the proximity of the fires to the University community.

“These (fires) are happening in areas which are heavily populated by students, and we want to ensure students are aware of that,” Brown said.

As of 5 p.m. today, Ann Arbor Police Department officials said they would not comment on the incident, but said they are currently working with the Ann Arbor Fire Department in the investigation.

In interviews this afternoon, students who live in the area said they witnessed commotion and smelled smoke around the time of the fires.

LSA senior Alicja Sobilo who lives in an apartment complex on the 700 block of South Forest Avenue, said she went into the lobby of her apartment building at about 1:45 a.m., soon after the fire there began.

Sobilo said a large group of women from Alpha Delta Pi sorority house located across the street at 722 South Forest Ave. had congregated in the apartment complex’s lobby, adding that the lobby was packed.

“There were girls with blankets,” Sobilo said. “Some of them seemed really worried.”

Sobilo said several of the women in the lobby told her a truck was on fire in their parking lot. Sobilo added that though she smelled smoke, at no point did she see actual flames.

When contacted today, Business School sophomore Ashley Anderson, Alpha Delta Pi’s president, declined to comment on last night’s fires.

Another member of Alpha Delta Pi answered the door of the sorority house today but also refused to provide comment.

LSA senior Harrison Taylor, who lives on South Forest’s 700 Block, also said he smelled smoke but did not see fire.

“I saw an ambulance, fire trucks, a bunch of cops and I could smell smoke, but I didn’t see any fire,” Taylor said.

Another fire occurred in an alley behind The Abbey, according to another tenant of the apartment complex.

Jessica Miller, a student at Ann Arbor’s Washtenaw Community College who shares an apartment in the complex with several University students, said she was in her apartment at the time of the fire and witnessed the commotion.

“People said they had been walking and then they saw bright lights and realized it was fire,” Miller said.

In a similar incident two weeks ago, a blaze charred three cars beneath the Abbey complex. That fire caused smoke damage to some of the units near the flaming cars, according to an April 3 article in The Michigan Daily.

Miller expressed concern and fear about the two separate incidents so close to one another.

“It’s really disconcerting, it’s really scary,” she said.

The Ann Arbor Police Department is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information on the fires. As of 9 a.m. this morning, authorities say there are no suspects. If anyone has any information about the “suspicious behavior around parked cars,” they’re being asked to contact police immediately.

Last night's string of fires come exactly two weeks after a similar series of fires in Ann Arbor. Though all of the April 3 fires reportedly started outside of buildings, the blazes did reach at least one building and caused structural damage. That fire gutted a rental house at 928 S. State street, killing 22-year-old Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters and injuring two others.

According to an April 7 report in The Michigan Daily, Ann Arbor's police and fire departments are split over whether or not the fires on April 3 can be classified as arson.

 

 


Apr 17, 2010

Updated: Authorities investigate 4 suspicious car fires overnight in Ann Arbor; $5,000 reward offered

Topics: Crime, Downtown Ann Arbor, News, UM Campus

Posted: Apr 17, 2010 at 7:40 AM [Today]

Car Fire 1.jpg

Firefighters work to put out one of four car fires that occurred early Saturday morning near the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. All fires occurred on the S. Forest Avenue and Church Street area of the city.

Photo courtesy of Darren Levitt

Investigators say four cars appear to have been intentionally set on fire overnight in Ann Arbor - exactly two weeks after another set of suspicious fires, including one that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old student.

A reward of up to $5,000 is now being offered to help solve the cases.

All the fires occurred in the area of the University of Michigan's Central Campus, and one man suffered a burn to his arm attempting to extinguish a car on fire, officials said. He is being credited with stopping the fire from spreading to a nearby sorority house.

All told, eight cars were damaged. 

Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the series of fires occurred within about 20 minutes and spanned several blocks.

In one instance, a car burned early today in the exact same lot as one of the car fires two weeks ago, officials said.

Ann Arbor Police Detective Lt. Mark St. Amour declined to say whether investigators believe the fires two weeks ago and those overnight may be linked.

"It's under investigation at this point," St. Amour said.

Vogel said firefighters were called to a car fire on South Forest Avenue at 1:45 a.m. They arrived to find a pickup truck on fire at 722 S. Forest, and bystanders pointed out another car on fire at 736 S. Forest, Vogel said.

Two weeks ago, a series of suspicious fires also occurred - including this one in the 900 block of South State Street that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old man.

The pickup truck was parked next to a sorority, and a man used a garden hose and extinguishers to keep the fire from spreading, Vogel said. He suffered an arm burn in the process, but Vogel did not have information on whether he was hospitalized.

"The students were really great last night," Vogel said. "That young man saved that house from burning."

At 736 S. Forest, the car that started on fire also burned the cars on either side, Vogel said. The two addresses are about 100 yards apart.

Car Fire 2.jpg

Police and firefighters continue to investigate the cause of the fires. Another series of fires occurred in the same area two weeks ago.

Photo courtesy of Darren Levitt

While firefighters were on the scene, a bystander flagged them down to report another vehicle fire in the 900 block of Church Street, next to the same building where three cars parked below the building were damaged two weeks ago, Vogel said. In this case, the vehicle wasn't under the building.

An SUV burned there, and also caught the car next to it on fire, Vogel said.

Firefighters soon received reports of another car fire in the area of Oakland and Church streets. That vehicle was engulfed in flames when firefighters got there, and the car next to it burned, Vogel said.

Finally, firefighters doused a trash fire on Church Street. No structures were damaged in any of the fires, Vogel said.

"We're definitely concerned," Vogel said of the fires. "We set up a command center and have been working with police."

U-M student Tatiana Imamura lives on Church Street and said she was falling asleep when she heard sirens and a boom. She said she and her roommate looked outside and saw a car on fire.
 
“It was already in flames and we thought it was going to catch the house on fire,” she said. “It was pretty crazy.”
 
Matt Feinstein, another U-M student who lives nearby, said he saw a white BMW SUV on fire in the parking lot of the Abbey apartment building on Church Street. He said the car on fire was in the same lot as one of the fires two weeks ago.
 

“It was not fully engulfed,” he said. “The Fire Department arrived pretty quickly.”
 
Roommates Dan Schweber and Adam Lamm, U-M students who live on South Forest Avenue, said they smelled smoke and heard sirens early this morning. They looked out the window and saw the women in the sorority house across the street being evacuated.

They said the car was in the sorority’s parking lot and not visible, but they went outside and decided to follow fire trucks nearby. They said they saw firefighters hosing down a vehicle near Church and Oakland streets. “The car was completely trashed,” Schweber said.
 
Nearby, the two said they saw a car on fire in the Abbey apartment building lot, which they said was not as bad as the other vehicles.
 
“We thought it was arson. Clearly it wasn’t accidental,” Schweber said. “I think they’re definitely related. If I had a car here I would park it underground or in a garage or something. I would not leave it out.”
 

St. Amour said police are assisting the fire department in the investigation, and two detectives who are trained fire investigators are involved. He referred further questions to the fire department.

This morning, the University of Michigan Department of Public Safety issued a crime alert warning the campus of the suspicious fires. The alert says no suspects have been identified.

On April 3, several fires started overnight, including one that gutted a home on South State Street, one that burned three cars on Church Street and others that involved trash.

The South State Street blaze killed 22-year-old Renden LeMaster and injured two others. Samples from the porch, where the fire appears to have started, were sent to the state police crime lab for analysis, but results are not yet available, police said.

Although officials have not said those fires are arson, the U-M Department of Public Safety also issued a warning that day, urging students to be careful and report suspicious activity to police.

The reward of up to $5,000 is being offered by the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-44-ARSON.
 

Erica Hobbs also contributed to this report.
 


Apr 14, 2010

Proposed cuts to Ann Arbor police and fire draw criticism from union, council candidates

Topics: Government, News

Posted: Apr 14, 2010 at 11:03 AM [Today]

Proposals by Ann Arbor leaders to cut deep into police and fire services to balance the 2010-11 budget are drawing heavy criticisms this week from the firefighters union and a group of candidates running for City Council.

Late Tuesday night, four candidates seeking to oust members of the current Ann Arbor City Council majority released a joint statement opposing the cuts.

fire_truck.jpg

File Photo

The four candidates — all Democrats — are Patricia Lesko, who is running for mayor, 1st Ward candidate Sumi Kailasapathy, 4th Ward candidate Jack Eaton and 5th Ward candidate Lou Glorie.

They called the potential cuts in City Administrator Roger Fraser's proposed 2010-11 budget "unnecessary" and a "disservice to taxpayers."

Also on Tuesday, Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters union, released an open letter to the City Council, arguing Ann Arbor deserves better fire protection.

"As Local 693 has continued to find ways to have input into Mr. Fraser's quest for a regionalized fire service for Washtenaw County, we remain disappointed by the lack of interest by the city administrator for our input into the process," Schroeder wrote. "With proposed cuts to our department being double of other city departments and our ability to provide services proposed to reduce our ability by 22 percent, I challenge you to reconsider cutting the fire department. We were leaders in our attempt to help the city overcome its financial struggles by taking a 3 percent cut and contributing more to our pension. We have been committed to the safety of our citizens to include the students of our university. We are truly lean and fiscally responsible."

Schroeder urged council members to ask questions of the administrator, the fire chief and the union. He said he's been directly impacted on a personal level by the most recent fire fatality in the city and knows from a professional perspective what it could have been if the fire department had already been cut by then.

"This is an emergency, please do not allow this core service to be politicized," Schroeder wrote. "The citizens deserve your leadership on this issue. Their safety is at stake."

Schroeder directed council members to read a recent Detroit Free Press article that reported frustration is growing over how some communities in Southeast Michigan are responding to their mutual aid agreements for fire protection, and fire aid pacts aren't holding up.

Fraser and his staff have worked in the last several months to close an additional $5.2 million gap in the city's budget. Those cuts impact public safety more than any other area. 

Unless the City Council rejects Fraser's plan, 20 positions in the fire department and 20 in the police department will be eliminated in July.

The four challengers running for council argue in their joint statement that the cuts will take the number of sworn officers down from 99 to 87, which they say is too deep a cut when Ann Arbor already has as few as six police officers on patrol at any given time.

“Cutting emergency services has become business as usual when closing these alleged budget gaps," Lesko said. "In all the budgets the administrator has presented to council since 2003, he has inaccurately projected deficits. In 2009, Mr. Fraser’s general fund budget projections were off by over $2 million dollars. Ann Arbor’s general fund ended up with $2 million dollars more than his budget projected it would.

"Mayor and council have the money to fund police and fire. All they need to do is to direct the city administrator to rein in overhead— start with the $1,000 oil changes charged by the city’s fleet department to our fire department, and the $50 wiper blade replacements charged by the fleet department to our police department. The city’s fleet department has accumulated a $10 million cash surplus, part of which should be returned to the general fund to fund police and fire services.”

Eaton, a labor lawyer with experience negotiating union contracts, said he questions the motivations behind the proposed cuts.

"Our city needs to partner with our unionized employees to realize all possible savings," he said. "This latest threat of job loss is a poorly disguised attempt to coerce further concessions from those unions. Good faith bargaining requires honesty and mutual trust. This bullying is disrespectful to our public employees and ultimately does a disservice to taxpayers who pay the bills.”

Lesko, Kailasapathy, Eaton and Glorie pledged that should Fraser's proposed 2010-11 police and fire budget cuts be enacted, if elected, they will co-sponsor a resolution to re-open the that budget and direct the administrator to reverse the cuts.

Glorie said fire and safety services are indispensable. She also thinks proposed water and sewer rate increases can be avoided.

"I suggest the city release the surpluses in the IT, solid waste and fleet funds immediately to pay for essential services and prevent an escalation of water and sewer rates into the exosphere," she said. "And while we’re at it, let’s stop the borrowing. Our city’s CFO brags about the city’s AA+ credit rating from Standard and Poor’s. Since the bond rating industry gave top grades to subprime derivatives, this does not reassure."

Kailasapathy, a certified public accountant, said she has analyzed the city's budget and thinks there's enough money to maintain police and fire services at current levels.

“Our primary goal should be to provide basic services such as fire and police services to our constituents," she said. "Ann Arbor City Council needs to move away from a culture of anecdote-based budgeting and indulging in spending sprees, to a more objective method of budgeting that is grounded in numbers that ensure human safety and well-being.”

Lesko, Kailasapathy, Eaton and Glorie have announced they will be hosting a meet and greet event at Vinology on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor from 5-7 p.m. Sunday.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529 .


Apr 14, 2010

Ann Arbor City Hall evacuated due to carbon monoxide levels

Topics: Downtown Ann Arbor, News

Posted: Apr 14, 2010 at 2:21 PM [Today]

Employees in the Ann Arbor city hall building were evacuated this afternoon after carbon monoxide built up inside much of the building and sickened at least one person.

 

 

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City hall was evacuated this afternoon.

Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com

The Ann Arbor Fire Department was still on the scene around 2:20 p.m, and officials said they expected it could take several hours to bring levels back down.

Officials say detectors on several floors began alerting employees earlier today of high levels of carbon monoxide in the building. One man said he wasn't feeling well and was being monitored, but he wasn't being transported to the hospital, said fire department safety officer Gretchen Virlee-Wagner.

It's believed the build up was caused by a combination of exhaust from construction vehicles in the city hall construction site and the direction the wind was blowing.

About 350 employees work inside the city hall building. At least 70 additional workers involved in the construction of the new police-court building also are on the site.

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for AnnArbor.com. You can reach her at tinareed@annarbor.com, call her at 734-623-2535


Apr 13, 2010

updated: Fire heavily damages west-side Ann Arbor home, injures one firefighter

Topics: Ann Arbor West, News

Posted: Apr 13, 2010 at 7:40 AM [Yesterday]

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A home on West Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor is boarded up after fire caused extensive damage early Tuesday morning.

Angele Cesere | AnnArbor.com

Fire caused extensive damage to a home on West Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor early this morning and sent one firefighter to the hospital with minor injuries.

Firefighters were called to a home in the 500 block of West Stadium Boulevard at 1:41 a.m., a press release said. They could see flames and smoke coming from the home while en route and arrived to find heavy flames on the first floor, extending to the second floor.

Crews began attacking the fire while other firefighters searched for the residents, who firefighters later discovered had escaped before their arrival, the press release said.

The fire was under control by about 2 a.m. A firefighter who suffered a hand injury was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Superior Township for treatment, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

The home, which is one unit of a duplex, was declared a total loss. The adjacent unit had smoke and water damage, Vogel said. The fire's cause has not been determined.

The Washtenaw County Red Cross said it was providing food, clothing and shelter to residents. Vogel said three people were living in the home.


Apr 05, 2010

Compressor motor fire causes evacuation at Heidelberg Restaurant

A burning compressor motor caused the evacuation of the Heidelberg restaurant in Ann Arbor Sunday night, a press release from the Ann Arbor Fire Department said.

Firefighters who were called to the restaurant at 215 N. Main St. at 6:23 p.m. were met by employees, who told them the fire was in the basement.

They found a compressor motor on fire there and quickly extinguished it. The fire was contained to the compressor and caused minimal smoke damage, the press release said.

Damage was estimated at $1,000.


Apr 03, 2010

Two cars, SUV burn in early morning fire on Church Street in Ann Arbor

Two cars and an SUV burned in an early morning fire in the 900 block of Church Street in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Fire Department reported.

Firefighters responded to a call shortly before 2 a.m about a car on fire that was parked in a parking area beneath an apartment building. While en route to the fire, another call came in saying the building was on fire.
 

When crews arrived, the parking lot area was engulfed in flames and the fire was starting to spread up an exterior wall of the building, according to a press release from the fire department. Two cars and an SUV were found to be on fire.

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Greg Hollingsworth said the car fire was suspicious because the vehicle that first caught fire had not been driven for a couple days, meaning it likely wasn't a mechanical or overheating issue that caused ignition.

Hollingsworth said investigators are looking into any possible connections between car fire and another house fire that happened a few hours later on South State Street.

The fire remains under investigation and damage estimates were not immediately available.


Apr 03, 2010

2 in critical condition following blaze on South State Street in Ann Arbor

Two residents of a home gutted by fire early today were critically injured, officials said.

A third resident also was taken to the hospital following the 5:30 a.m. blaze at 928 S. State St., said Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones, the safety services administrator.

928-State-Street-Fire.jpg

At least three people were injured in the fire.

Photos by Ron Gubry

Jones, who was on the scene this morning, said he did not have updated information on the conditions of the residents and did not know how many people were inside the home when the fire broke out.

Officials said the fire was initially reported as a bag on fire on the porch. When firefighters arrived, a man and woman ran from the home on fire, and firefighters immediately began rendering aid, Jones said.

One of the injured occupants is a University of Michigan student, officials said.

Two people were rescued from the back of the house, two other people came out and one person jumped, fire officials said earlier.

The cause has not been determined. Two other fires involving cars and trash cans also were reported overnight, including one that consumed three cars on Church Street, officials said.

South State Street was closed following the fire. As of 10:15 a.m., the northbound lanes were reopened, and one lane southbound remained blocked.

This story will be updated.


Mar 31, 2010

Kitchen fire damages apartment on Ann Arbor's west side

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Ann Arbor Firefighter Jim Tiernan starts cleaning up the scene after helping put out an apartment fire on Arbordale Street in Ann Arbor Wednesday morning.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor firefighters extinguished a kitchen fire in an apartment on Arbordale Drive near Pauline Boulevard on the city's west side this morning.

Firefighters responded to a report of a fire in the 1000 block of Arbordale Drive at 7:58 a.m., a Fire Department press release said.

Heavy smoke was pouring from the apartment's front door and eaves when firefighters arrived. They extinguished the blaze by 8:23 a.m., but it caused smoke damage throughout the apartment, the release said.

No one was injured. The cause has not been determined, the release said.


Mar 29, 2010

Kitchen fire in Ann Arbor injures one apartment resident

A kitchen fire in an apartment on the city's south side injured one resident Saturday night, Ann Arbor firefighters said.

The fire, caused by a pot left on the stove, broke out about 10 p.m. at Hidden Valley Club Apartments, an Ann Arbor Fire Department press release said.

When firefighters arrived at the apartment in the 600 block of Hidden Valley Club Drive, they found a fire on the stove had spread to the cabinets and created a lot of smoke throughout the apartment and in the second- and third-floor hallways.

The apartment resident was treated for smoke inhalation and taken to the hospital, the press release said.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze within 10 minutes and were on the scene for about an hour, the press release said.


Mar 26, 2010

Experiment goes awry on University of Michigan North Campus; lab room fire extinguished

Firefighters were called to a fire at the Francios Xavier Bagnoud Building at 1320 Beal Ave. at 6:03 p.m., a Fire Department Press release said.

Upon their arrival, a member of the University of Michigan College of Engineering Emergency Response Team led firefighters to the lab room, where seals in a chamber where a student was conducting an experiment had failed, causing a fire, the release said.

Hydrogen and oxygen gasses used to fuel the experiment as well as electrical power sources were turned off and the fire was put out with a chemical fire extinguisher.

Damage was estimated at $1,000, the press release said.


Mar 22, 2010

March 21, 2010 - 10:15pm

Ann Arbor Fire Department receives $70K grant

By: Debjani Mukherjee

The Ann Arbor Fire Department received a grant worth $72,519 on March 11, which will be used to support firefighting operations and increase firefighter safety.

U.S. Michigan Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin announced on Thursday that 15 fire departments in Michigan will receive $833,487 in grant money through the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistant to Firefighters Grant Program, according to a press release.

In the release, Levin wrote that the money will be used to provide training and equipment for Michigan fire departments.

“These federal dollars will help purchase the firefighting vehicles and personal protective equipment that Michigan’s firefighters and first responders need to do their jobs safely and effectively,” Levin wrote. “Communities throughout Michigan depend on the protection our firefighters provide, and this funding will help them prepare for the dangers they face on a daily basis.”

The grant will last for a period of one year. Ed Dziubinski, assistant chief of the Ann Arbor Fire Department, said the primary purpose of this grant is to increase firefighter safety on the scene of a fire.

“This will increase firefighter safety on the scene of fires with more uniform equipment for fire attack,” Dziubinski said.

Dzuibinski said the department has applied for the AFGP grant since it was first offered in 2001. Though AAFD has received money in the past, the department was not awarded the grant last year.

“We have been awarded almost every other year in the past four years,” Dziubinski said.

Dziubinski said the department has not yet bought equipment with the funds because, since the grant is worth more than $25,000, it needs be approved by the Ann Arbor City Council. The council has to match 20 percent of the grant funds — or $18,000 — with taxpayers’ dollars, according to Dziubinski.

“We budgeted for that amount when we first applied for the grant we made the city manager fully aware of what we were applying for,” Dziubinski said.

According to Dziubinski, City Council’s approval may take four to five weeks.

The AFGP grant is awarded through an application process. Each department has to draft a grant application and submit it electronically through the government website.

“The grant process took a month to two months – going through drafts and reviewing them,” Dziubinski said.

In writing the grant application Dziubinski said the department focused on the many groups in Ann Arbor, including the University’s student population, commercial community and high-tech and chemical industries that pose fire hazards and require AAFD attention.


Mar 22, 2010

Ann Arbor firefighters called to blazes on opposite sides of the city

It's been a busy night for Ann Arbor firefighters, who were on their way to one house fire on the north side of town when they were called to a second one on the south side.

Both fires were extinguished relatively quickly. The first fire, in the 3400 block of Burbank Drive on the city's northeast side, injured two people, said Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard.

They were being treated at the scene, and Hubbard said it wasn't clear whether they would be taken to the hospital.

That fire started in the basement of a two-story townhouse about 6:15 p.m. The blaze was contained to the basement, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said several fire trucks were on their way to the fire when a call came in about a fire on Chelsea Circle on the city's south side.

One Ann Arbor crew then headed to the second fire, and Pittsfield Township firefighters were called in to assist. That fire started on the stove and spread into the cabinets and the wall before it was extinguished. No one was injured.

He didn't have damage estimates available yet for either fire.


Mar 11, 2010

Surprise fire alarms used to test evacuation methods at University of Michigan fraternities, sororities

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An Ann Arbor fire truck is shown outside the Phi Delta Theta house Wednesday. Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

At the sound of the fire alarm, the fraternity house cleared out within 40 seconds.

Half its occupants fled to the rear of the large home, and a small group gathered out front as an Ann Arbor Fire Department truck rolled up, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Their evacuation method was exactly what Jim Rampton, community disaster education coordinator for the Red Cross, cautioned the residents against doing in the event of a real fire. 

In this case, it was a surprise fire stimulation being used to test the fire safety preparedness of some of the University of Michigan fraternity and sorority houses in the city.

The new initiative is a collaboration between the Washtenaw County Red Cross chapter, Ann Arbor Fire Department and U-M’s Greek Life organization. The purpose is to educate fraternity and sorority houses on the necessity for fire evacuation procedures and protocol.

 

Rampton used it as a lesson to inform the Delta Phi Theta members of the correct way to evacuate a burning house.

“If you take one thing away from this, it’s have a designated gathering spot out front where you all can account for one another,” Rampton told the roughly 26 residents.

 

Rampton explained fraternities and sororities are particularly at risk because so many students live in a small area. At Phi Delta Theta, 26 students live in 12 rooms, and Rampton added many of them are living on their own for the first time.

Rampton also pointed out the University of Michigan has the oldest and one of the largest Greek networks, and many of the houses are more than 100 years old. That means they’re prone to burn quicker with all the wood and insulation inside.

greek fire simulation 2.jpg

Ann Arbor Fire Captain Jim Budd speaks to Phi Delta Theta residents about fire safety. Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

“Some of these houses are very flammable,” he said. “What would normally take a couple minutes to burn would take a couple seconds instead.”

Rampton said Greek houses differs from dorms, which are typically better regulated by the university. He called the simulations an effective tool for preventing a tragedy.

“It’s an opportunity for some outreach, especially with a group of students that are high risk,” he said. “It’s a really good chance and way to get them thinking some of these things.”

The Washtenaw County Red Cross chapter and city Fire Department are arranging simulations throughout the Greek community with only the house president aware, leaving the others to suspect it's a true emergency. To add to the authenticity, an AAFD truck rolls up, along with a Red Cross emergency vehicle.

Once the firefighters are out of the truck, and the residents are informed about what’s taking place, they all meet inside to discuss what happened and how to improve evacuations.

Rampton said he hasn’t been particularly encouraged with the reactions thus far, but is optimistic the initiative will improve the situation.

“Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen so far and from the responses that I’ve gotten, only one house actually has a plan,” he said. “Some are so limited in their knowledge that they have no idea of what to do, which is why this is helpful - they’re getting a taste of what they should expect in real life situation.”

In the case of Phi Delta Theta, at the corner of Washtenaw and South University avenues, the students' reaction to the fire alarm was both positive and negative.

While the fire alarm and fire extinguishers had been inspected by the fire marshal three months earlier, not everyone had been properly trained on how to use them.

More importantly, the house didn't have an evacuation plan or system for accounting for its occupants.

“We hadn’t really thought about it before, but that’s one of the things we can do now,” house president Tom Hardenbergh said, holding up a packet containing Red Cross suggestions on improving evacuation procedures and statistics on fires in university homes.

Hardenbergh added he was pleased with how quickly everyone reacted and gathered in groups, but believes it can be accomplished in a more orderly fashion.

“We know everyone has a sense of what to do, but we were not as organized as we need to be,” he said, adding that developing a plan will be placed at the top of the priority list.

Ann Arbor Fire Captain Jim Budd also made several recommendations. He pointed out the fire doors meant to prevent flames from spreading from room-to-room were propped open.

He also said if an emergency occurs, house officials should clear the building immediately and have a sober representative work with fire officials, which he said has presented problems on previous calls to fraternities and sororities.

“What I ask from you gentleman is that you treat firefighters with respect,” he said.

In 2008, a fire at a fraternity house near campus gutted the historic home - but it was during the summer, so few people were living there at the time. No one was injured.

“That was what spurred on this idea - looking at those pictures of that house,” Rampton said.

FEMA statistics show there were 3,800 university housing fires between 2005 and 2007. Of confined fires, roughly 80 percent are cooking related. Intentionally set fires, open flames and unintentional fires comprise the bulk of uncontained fires.

Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at news@annarbor.com or 734-623-2530 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              734-623-2530      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.


Mar 07, 2010

Ann Arbor selects Dominick Lanza as new fire chief

Lanza is a retired assistant chief for the Broward Sheriff's Fire Rescue in Broward County, Fla. He worked for that department for 33 years before retiring in October 2007.

“He’s been in the firefighting ranks for about three decades," Rapundalo said. "He’s got a lot of experience. we were looking for breadth and someone who was a leader who could assess some changes if necessary and a strong manager.”

Rapundalo said the announcement will be made soon unless something unexpected comes up.

“The intent was to bring somebody on board as soon as they could so they could be instrumental in the budget process. We have to have a budget approved by the end of May and it goes into affect July 1. There could be some changes made to the Fire Department so it’s imperative to have a fire chief in place,” Rapundalo said.

The city has told the firefighters' union it is considering laying off 19 people in July and eliminating another vacant position to help deal with a budget shortfall. Earlier this year the firefighters' union accepted pay cuts to avoid the layoff of 13 firefighters. The city also plans to eliminate 17 jobs in the police department.

Former Fire Chief Samuel Hopkins retired last year.

Rapundalo said Dominick Lanza was chosen because of his management skills and his ability to interact with administration and rank and file firefighters.

“We were looking for someone who had experience with fiscal challenges. Someone who could assess the organization and determine what kind of changes could be made without compromising services and response time,” Rapundalo said.

Because it's not official yet, not all city officials had heard the news Saturday.

“Nobody told me,” council member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said.

Briere said that because she works during the day she was unable to attend the interviews for prospective candidates.

“I think it’s good news if it true,” she said.

Lanza posted the following message on his Facebook page Friday: "I am happy to say I have been selected as the new Fire Chief for the City of Ann Arbor Michigan a great department that is over 120 years old and a group of dedicated men and women I will be honored to be their Chief."

John Garcia is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com.


Mar 06, 2010

House fire on Red Oak Road in Ann Arbor displaces residents

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A room in a house across from Second Baptist Church on Red Oak Rd. caught fire Wednesday evening around 3:45.

Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor firefighters extinguished a fire that displaced a family on Red Oak Road this afternoon.

Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the house fire, reported at about 3:45 p.m., was caused by disregarded smoking material.

Although the fire was contained to one room, much of the rest of the house had smoke damage, making it uninhabitable for the rest of the day, Vogel said.

No one was injured, but the homeowner's child was there at the time, officials said.

Damage was estimated at $50,000.


Mar 04, 2010

2 people seriously injured in crash on East Stadium in Ann Arbor

Two people were seriously injured in a crash near the intersection of East Stadium Boulevard and Ferdon Road in Ann Arbor this evening.

Both cars had significant damage, and one occupant was trapped in the vehicle when emergency crews arrived, officials said.

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Numerous fire trucks, ambulances and police cars were on the scene of the crash Wednesday evening.

Ann Arbor police did not release details this evening of how the crash occurred. It appeared three vehicles may have been involved, but the third only had minor damage, witnesses said.

Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said when firefighters arrived, a passerby was providing assistance. Firefighters had to force open the door to one vehicle to free the trapped driver, Cook said.

No updated condition was available on the two people who were injured.

The intersection was closed for several hours while police investigated


Feb 25, 2010

 

Fire damages North Adams Street apartment home in Ypsilanti

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Firefighters regroup after extinguishing a fire in an apartment house on North Adams Street in Ypsilanti today.

Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com

A fire this morning damaged two units in an apartment house in the 300 block of North Adams Street, Ypsilanti fire officials said.

No one was injured in the 11:30 a.m. blaze, which broke out on the second-floor of the two-story home, fire Capt. Dan Cain said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Cain said. There are five apartments in the house - two upstairs and three downstairs - but Cain didn't know how many people were displaced. One unit on each floor was damaged.

ypsifire2.jpg

A firefighter checks for hot spots in a second floor apartment of a house that caught on fire today.

Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com

About 18 firefighters from Ypsilanti, Superior Township, Ypsilanti Township and Ann Arbor responded, Cain said. They had the fire under control in about 15 minutes, he said.

Matt Fleming, 29, said he was getting ready for work in his second-floor apartment when smoke seeped into his bedroom.

He opened his bedroom door, and the living room filled with smoke, he said. Fleming rushed to his roommate's bedroom, woke him up, and both hurried outside.

"I was just glad I was able to get my roommate out of there," he said. "...I was just freaking out."

Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527(734) 623-2527 and email at leehiggins@annarbor.com.


Feb 19, 2010

Fire at Brookhaven Manor Apartments in Ann Arbor causes evacuations, one injury

A kitchen fire caused minor injuries to one resident and evacuations during the busy lunch hour at Brookhaven Manor Apartments on the Ann Arbor's south side today, fire officials said.

Officials say the fire was contained to one room in the retirement home, although smoke spread to all three floors of the building at 401 West Oakbrook Drive.

Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said the building's fire alarm triggered at about 12:16 p.m., and dispatchers received word that a room was on fire as they were responding.

"The hallway was really smoked up when they got there," Cook said.

The fire was contained to a unit on the ground floor on the eastern side of the building. Because of the smoke, numerous residents were evacuated for about an hour, and other residents were told to stay in their rooms, Cook said.

Crews were on the scene for about 90 minutes ventilating the building. Cook said all residents were allowed back inside, but the damaged apartment can't be occupied until it is cleaned.

The woman whose room was damaged was taken to the hospital for evaluation, Cook said.

The Washtenaw County Public Health Department responded to inspect the food in the building.

Cook said all 20 of the city's firefighters on duty were needed at the scene.

A damage estimate has not been calculated.


Feb 06, 2010

Five treated for smoke inhalation following southeast Ann Arbor house fire

Five people, including three children, were treated for smoke inhalation following a fire Saturday afternoon.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department responded to the fire at 2175 Hemlock Drive in Ann Arbor to find a mattress on fire in the front yard and a fire in the bedroom.

Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the children alerted the mother that the mattress was burning, and she tried to drag it from the house. Two neighbors then came to help her, getting it to the lawn as the fire gained intensity.

Vogel said the damage is estimated to be $7,500, including moderate damage to the bedroom and heavy smoke damage throughout the house.

“There was a lot of smoke in the house,” he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. None of the people treated at the scene required hospitalization, Vogel said.

 


Feb 05, 2010

19 Ann Arbor firefighters, 9 police officers facing layoffs

Just three weeks after agreeing to voluntary concessions that included a 4 percent reduction in compensation, Ann Arbor firefighters could be taking another hit.

Members of the firefighters union have been informed the city is looking at laying off 19 firefighters starting in July and eliminating another vacant position. That's six more positions than were previously slated to be cut.

Thumbnail image for 122009_firefighters.jpg

The hats of three firefighters who were facing layoffs last month sit on a truck at Station 4 in Ann Arbor. Their jobs may be back on the chopping block.

Another 17 positions in the police department also face elimination in an effort to trim $1.98 million from what was projected to be a $26.5 million budget for the department in the next fiscal year. That includes laying off nine sworn police officers, seven positions within the community standards division and one management assistant.

With 13 firefighters' jobs on the chopping block last month, the union agreed to voluntary pay cuts to avoid layoffs through July. But they had no guarantee of what would happen after that grace period ended.

"I'm at a loss to understand it," said Craig Ferris, a lieutenant with the fire department. "I just don't know how we can make the efforts that we made and the sacrifice that we made, and then to hear this. It doesn't make sense. That's like doing a guy a favor and having him come back and hit you with a baseball bat."

Ann Arbor City Council members were provided a series of budget impact sheets tonight in preparation for a working session scheduled for Monday night. The reports show city staff's proposed plans for trimming 7.5 percent from the budgets of every service area in the city, with public safety being no exception.

Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, said the City Council ultimately will decide how to handle the defiict the city is facing.

"We're beginning a process where we have to meet a target number," he said, noting personnel costs represent about 80 percent of the budgets within public safety. "To meet those target numbers, it will require us to get into personnel because there's nothing else. It's a very lean operation."

Jones said the police department currently has 123 officers, while the fire department has 94 firefighters counting the chief and two management assistants.

The budget sheets show cuts already implemented this year, cuts already scheduled to take effect in July, and what would happen if the recommendations for the additional 7.5 percent reductions took effect.

The fire department has a $13.3 million projected budget for the next fiscal year after having already made $677,678 in cuts this year.

The layoff of 13 firefighters and elimination of one vacant position still are scheduled to take effect in July, which will save nearly $1.4 million. Additionally, another six firefighters could be laid off - for a total elimination of 20 firefighter positions in July. The additional cuts would save another $997,445.

"This will result in the closing of fire substations, resulting in increased response times due to crews responding from the remaining fire districts," the budget sheet prepared by city staff reads. "Service reduction may impact regional response agreement talks and may void response agreement draft with Ypsilanti."

The staff analysis also states the cuts would take daily staffing levels below national standards to effectively and safely fight an average sized home fire and may raise insurance rates.

Matt Schroeder, president of the Local 693 firefighters union, said firefighters are taking the news hard.

"We were hopeful coming out of the contract and looked to work to problem-solve these issues, but I don't think they're being fairly represented by the city right now," he said, adding that firefighters feel like city officials haven't been forthcoming with budget information. Firefighters also question why city officials are spending tens of millions of dollars on capital projects such as a new police-courts building.

"It just seems like we're trying to make up for their mistakes," Schroeder said.

Ferris said he doesn't understand how the number of firefighters facing layoff has grown to 19 seemingly overnight.

"It just seems unbelievable that this is what they're going to ask for now," he said. "We're making an effort, we're doing so much more with so fewer people than we ever have before, and now we're doing it for less pay, and we did it to save jobs and keep the city safe. And instead of coming back and saying 'thanks for your effort,' (the city administrator) comes back saying we're going to lay off 19 people."

Firefighters say they're disheartened they're being asked to dig further into their pockets when City Administrator Roger Fraser and other top city administrators still haven't agreed to any pay cuts themselves. However, some members of the Ann Arbor City Council did agree to a 3 percent pay cut for themselves last month.

The firefighters union continues to reach out to the University of Michigan's Board of Regents to discuss the plight of the fire department. Firefighters are hopeful the university, which doesn't pay taxes to the city but receives city services, will agree to help cover their share of costs for fire protection to save jobs.

Schroeder said the fire department already struggles to meet national standards, which state that the first company (a truck with three firefighters) should arrive on the scene within four minutes and a full alarm assignment (15 to 17 people, depending on the need for an aerial apparatus) should arrive within eight minutes.

"We're minimally meeting those standards right now, but if we're going to lose companies and those numbers of apparatus, we would be below it," Schroeder said. "That's why we fought so hard to maintain our staffing through July, at least. We already are thin."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Jan 31, 2010

With slideshow: Fire investigators begin searching for cause of blaze that destroyed Ypsilanti office building

Ypsilanti-ecorse-fire.jpg

An early morning fire destroyed this office building at 316 Ecorse Road in Ypsilanti.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Hours after a blaze destroyed a large office building in Ypsilanti, fire investigators are beginning the painstaking task of sifting through the rubble to search for clues.

Because of the size of the building and the amount of collapse, heavy equipment is being used to pull apart what remains of 316 Ecorse Road, Ypsilanti Fire Capt. Dan Cain said.

The two-story building - home to offices for attorneys, doctors, mortgage brokers and others - was gutted in the early morning fire. Cain said the blaze was already massive by the time firefighters arrived, due in part to the time of day and the fact that it was unoccupied on a Sunday morning.

"By the time we got there, it was well advanced," Cain said. "The building is a total loss."

One Ypsilanti firefighter was injured and is being evaluated at the hospital, Cain said. Water used to fight the fire also quickly froze on the ground, causing several firefighters to slip and fall, he said.

It took firefighters nearly four hours to get the blaze under control. Cain said they'll be on the scene this afternoon dousing hot spots as the heavy equipment pulls apart the building.

The fire started on the first floor, but the cause isn't yet known. A damage estimate also has not been calculated.

The building is owned by New Dynamics Inc., and the taxpayer listed in county property records is Joel Grossman of Bloomfield Hills. Reached at his home this afternoon, Grossman confirmed he owns the building but declined to comment.

Ecorse Road was closed for several hours, but reopened around 2 p.m.

Ypsilanti firefighters were assisted by firefighters from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township, Superior Township and Pittsfield Township.


Jan 30, 2010

Fire causes heavy damage to Ann Arbor apartment

A fire severely damaged an apartment this morning in south Ann Arbor, but the apartment’s resident and as many as 50 of her neighbors from surrounding units were evacuated without injuries.

Responding to the 11:06 a.m. call, firefighters found heavy smoke and flames coming from the garden apartment in the 600 block of Hidden Valley Drive, said Ann Arbor Fire Department Battalion Chief Jim Baldwin.

A crew of six firefighters extinguished the flames with water from a single hose, but all the apartment’s contents were lost.

Baldwin said evacuating the neighbors was a greater challenge than putting out the fire. All six available Ann Arbor units were called to the scene to assist.

Some of the surrounding apartments suffered smoke damage.

No injuries were reported. Firefighters were on the scene for about 90 minutes.

The Washtenaw County Red Cross is helping the apartment’s resident find temporary lodging. It wasn’t known if other residents were displaced.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.


Jan 26, 2010

Fire damages Ann Arbor home, displaces family of 4

An attic fire in a home on Cranbrook Road caused no injuries but has temporarily displaced the family of four living there, The Ann Arbor Fire Department said.

The fire, believed to have been started by an exhaust fan in the bathroom, broke out about 5:45 p.m. in a home in the 2700 block of Cranbrook Road, a Fire Department press release said.

Firefighters saw smoke coming from the attic area when they arrived and discovered fire above the bathroom.

A woman, her teenage son and three dogs escaped from the home without injuries. The father and another son were not home at the time, the press release said.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, but smoke and water damaged other parts of the home. Damage was estimated at $20,000.

The family had to move out temporarily because of a hole in the roof, said Amy Brow, acting battalion chief.


Jan 25, 2010

Eight students displaced overnight after microwave mishap sparks fire in Baits II

Sam Wolson/Daily
Lieutenant Carl Hein of the Ann Arbor City Fire Department shows where a team of firefighters threw a burning mattress out the window of a room in Baits II earlier this afternoon.

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By: Devon Thorsby
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 24th, 2010

This is a breaking story. Check michigandaily.com for updates throughout the day.

Sam Wolson/Daily
A hallway in Baits II, where firefighters had to bring in a firehose and flood with water.

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Eight students are unable to return to their rooms tonight after a microwave mishap set a Baits II Residence Hall room on fire.

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown confirmed that fire alarms went off in Cross House in Baits II Residence Hall just before 3 p.m. today for what was later deemed a structural fire by the Ann Arbor Fire Department. No injuries were reported.

The fire started when a student tried to reheat food in a container in his microwave, Brown said. After a few moments, the food and container caught fire.

Brown said the student stopped the microwave and tried to remove the container when some of the burning material dropped onto a pile of clothes on the floor. That is when, according to Brown, “everything ignited.”

The student ran out of the room and was uninjured, Brown said.

Because Cross House is not yet equipped with a sprinkler system, firefighters used a hose to put out the fire, according to Brown.

LSA freshman Ankur Shah said he was walking from his room in Baits I when he saw a ladder leading up to a window at Cross House. According to Shah, the window appeared to be broken in, and smoke was pouring out.

Shah said he and other students observed that smoke continued to come out of the room for longer than he expected.

“We thought the fire was out,” he said, “but apparently it wasn’t.”

Brown said that much of the work firefighters did involved smoke clearance and ensuring there were no flames behind walls and deep within the structure of the building.

She said the room where the fire started as well as the hallway where the room was located, were damaged by fire — with minor water damages to other rooms in that hall. No other floors were affected.

While she does not yet have an estimate as to the cost of damages, Brown said some electrical and structural repairs will be required.

“The fixtures in the hallway are all melted,” Brown said. “But the student’s room had the most damage. There’s really no other way to describe how it looked than to say his room is destroyed.”

At 6 p.m. students in Cross House were allowed back into their rooms, except for the students who live in the affected hallway, Brown said. University Housing is working with those eight students to secure them temporary housing at various residence halls on campus.

— Chelsea Lange and Managing Photo Editor Sam Wolson contributed to this report.


Jan 25, 2010

Fire in residence hall room displaces 8 University of Michigan students

Eight University of Michigan students were displaced for at least the night after a fire that started in a microwave in the Baits housing complex spread to a resident's room, university officials said.

No one was injured in the 3 p.m. fire in the Cross House of Baits on North Campus.

Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Department of Public Safety, said a resident was reheating food in a microwave, and it appears aluminum foil caught fire.

He attempted to take the food out, but burning pieces of the foil fell on clothing and ignited it, Brown said. The resident evacuated and called for help.

When Ann Arbor firefighters arrived at the three-story building off Hubbard Street, they saw heavy smoke coming from the room, Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard said.

All the residents in the building were evacuated, but many weren't home since it was a Sunday afternoon, Brown said.

The building doesn't have a fire suppression system, but doors kept the fire from spreading to adjoining rooms, Brown said. The hallway had smoke damage, and adjacent rooms also may have some smoke damage, Hubbard said.

University housing is assisting the eight students who will be unable to return tonight, Brown said. It's unclear how long they will be displaced, but officials expect to know more in the morning.

A damage estimate is not yet available, but Hubbard said the room where the fire originated was severely damaged.


Jan 22, 2010

Council OKs Firefighter Deal, 911 Center

Also: Symbolic checks get written

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Jan. 19, 2010): The Ann Arbor city council approved an agreement with the local firefighters union that reduces pay by 3% to ensure that no firefighters will be laid off before June 30, 2010.

Pam Byrnes and Karen Sydney

State Rep. Pam Byrnes, left, and Karen Sidney talk before the start of the city council's meeting, which included a presentation at the start of the meeting from Byrnes. (Photos by the writer.)

And, in a move that some councilmembers described as leadership, mayor John Hieftje announced that he was writing a check for $1,273 as a contribution back to the city, because that’s the equivalent of 3% of his annual salary – the same percentage conceded by the firefighters union. It’s also the same percentage Hieftje has suggested that all employees citywide accept as a wage reduction. Some councilmembers indicated they’d be making similar gestures, which they allowed were only symbolic.

The city council also approved a budget increase for the 911 call center modification, a project to facilitate co-location of the city and county 911 centers – it’s expected to be a cost-savings measure.

Council also directed the city administrator, Roger Fraser, to plan an event to honor volunteer members of various boards, commissions and committees that do much of the work required to make the city run.

In other business, the council approved without discussion a University of Michigan project for the soccer complex on South Main Street.

State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-District 52) gave a presentation to the council at the start of the meeting outlining exactly how bleak the economic outlook is in Michigan.

Many of the items on council’s agenda were postponed: revisions to bicycling and pedestrian ordinances (including bicycle registration); revisions to parking fines; and the capital improvements plan.

And two of the items were pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting: a revision to the ordinance on signs and outdoor advertising to allow portable signs; and a resolution to approve the transfer of a liquor license to BW&R GoBlue LLC, located at 640 Packard Street.

Firefighter Contract

At the city council’s Dec. 5 budget retreat, city administrator Roger Fraser had indicated to councilmembers that he intended to implement an item in the fiscal 2011 budget plan six months earlier than specified in that plan:  layoff 14 firefighters.

When the city council did not take any action at their Dec. 7 meeting to gave Fraser other direction, layoff notices were sent – to have been effective on Jan. 4, 2010. At their Jan. 4 meeting, the city council was informed that the city and the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 reached an agreement that would forestall layoffs until at least June 30, 2010, which the union would vote the following week. The union approved the agreement.

The item on the council’s Tuesday agenda was an approval by the council of that agreement. Highlights from the council packet description:

  • One-year contract: July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.
  • Effective Jan. 3, 2010: a 3.0% wage decrease.
  • Effective Feb. 1, 2010: an increase in Pension Contribution from 5% to 6%.
  • Effective upon Council Approval: a payment of $250 into each member’s HRA account for FY 2010.
  • Guarantee of no layoffs through June 30, 2010.

Hieftje noted that the deal did not get the city all the way to covering the budget gap they needed to cover.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the deal preventing layoffs of firefighters until June 30, 2010.

A related item on the agenda addressed the ordinance change – to the retirement system –  needed in order to implement some elements of the agreement with the firefighters. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) questioned why the item had been put out of place on the agenda – as an ordinance change, it should not have been included in the section on staff’s new business. City administrator Roger Fraser explained that the rationale for its agenda placement had been that it was contingent on approval of the firefighter agreement, thus immediately followed it on the agenda.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the change to the retirement system.

Three Percent for Symbolism

Related via the 3% theme to the firefighters’ concession was an announcement from mayor John Hieftje. In his communications, he said that while he’d previously announced a challenge to all city staff, including councilmembers, to accept a 3% wage cut, it was not a simple matter for councilmembers to implement a cut for themselves.

Council Pay Raises: Legislative Background

By way of background, the city charter actually still specifies that councilmembers are not paid:

SECTION 12.6.
(a) Each member of the Council, except the Mayor, shall serve without pay. The compensation of the Mayor shall be fixed by the Council. When authorized by the Council, necessary expenses may be allowed to its members when actually incurred on behalf of the City.

However, in 1972, the following amendment was made to the state’s Home Rule City Act:

117.5c Local officers compensation commission; …

Sec. 5c. In place of a charter provision existing on December 31, 1972 establishing the salaries or the procedure for determining salaries of elected officials, the governing body may establish, by ordinance, the procedure described in this section, in which case the restriction contained in a charter provision with respect to changing salaries during term shall be inapplicable.

In Ann Arbor’s case, the relevant ordinance is contained in Chapter 22 of the city code. Pertinent to the possibility of reducing the Ann Arbor city council’s compensation is the timing of the local officers compensation commission’s (LOCC) meeting, as specified in Chapter 22 [emphasis added]:

(3)   The commission shall meet for not more than 15 session days in every odd numbered year and shall make its determination within 45 calendar days of its first meeting. A majority of the members of the commission constitute a quorum for conducting the business of the commission. The commission shall take no action or make determinations without a concurrence of a majority of the members appointed and serving on the commission. The commission shall elect a chairman from among its members. “Session days” means any calendar day on which the commission meets and a quorum is present. The members of the commission shall receive no compensation, but shall be entitled to their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.

Council Pay Raises: Recent Local History

The city’s LOCC commission met on May 12, 2009 and made a determination to maintain compensation of councilmembers and the mayor at $15,913 and $42,436, respectively.

Because this year is an even-numbered year, an adjustment to compensation would have to wait until January 2011.

The previous determination of the LOCC, made in 2007, had recommended a 3% raise for the mayor’s position from $40,000 to $41,200 in 2008  and another 3% to $42,436 in 2009. In 2007, the LOCC had also recommended a 3% raise for councilmembers from $15,000 to $15,450 in 2008 and another 3% to $15,913 in 2009.

At their Dec. 17, 2007 meeting, the city council considered a resolution that would have rejected the recommended pay increases. It was separated out into three separate resolutions, one on the mayor, another on the mayor pro tem (which we here leave aside), and a third on councilmembers. The resolution was introduced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Christopher Easthope, who then represented Ward 5, along with Mike Anglin.

The constitution of council at that time was: Ronald Suarez (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Joan Lowenstein (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Leigh Greden (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Easthope (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and John Hieftje (mayor).

The resolution ultimately passed on a voice vote. Commentary in a Dec. 23, 2007 editorial published in the Ann Arbor News read as follows:

Quite a kabuki dance ensued as the resolution was discussed and ultimately defeated – meaning that the pay raises will go into effect. Easthope and new Council Members Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, and Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, voted to reject the raises for the council – though Anglin supported giving Mayor John Hieftje a raise. (A challenge by Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, was pure debate-club theater. Greden proposed that those rejecting the raises give the money to charity – Easthope, Briere and Anglin all agreed to do it.)

[Editor's note: The editorial was drafted by Ann Arbor Chronicle publisher, Mary Morgan, who then served as the News' opinion editor.]

Then, in the summer of 2009, a request made by Ann Arbor News columnist Judy McGovern under the Freedom of Information Act yielded emails exchanged between councilmembers during the Dec. 17, 2007 meeting. Those emails revealed the talk at the table to have been actual theater. From McGovern’s July 21, 2009 article:

7:32 p.m. – Leigh Greden to Marcia Higgins: “SK (Stephen Kunselman) is with us on the pay raise.”
7:34 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Welll (sic) that’s 5 of us. Anyone else?”
7:37 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “Higgins, (Margie) Teall, (Stephen) Rapundalo, (Joan) Lowenstein, Greden, Kunselman. I think (Mayor John) Hieftje is with us too. He wants it to pass. I told him I would publicly challenge anyone who votes no (against accepting the additional compensation) to return the pay raise or donate it to a charity. I told him I would publicly follow-up on that challenge in 6 months, so he better vote yes.”
7:38 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Joan changed her mind?”
7:39 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “She said ‘I just don’t want to be the only one.’ I told her we have a majority, so she said she’d vote with us.”
As the question reached the floor, Greden e-mailed Easthope.
8:28 p.m. – Subject “wait”
“I’m going to see what people say about the pay raise. I will challenge in a minute.”
8:29 p.m. – Easthope to Greden: “Make sure, that’s our deal for keeping my mouth shut. I told John I wouldn’t ask for a roll call vote.”
8:29 p.m. – Greden to Easthope: “Deal. I need to let the others speak first.”

Council Pay Cuts: Symbolic Check Writing

Against that historical background, Hieftje said that he’d be writing a check for $1,273 and handing it over to the city administrator as a contribution to the city of Ann Arbor.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he supported the idea that everybody should contribute, and said that he’d be joining the mayor in writing a check.

Carsten Hohnke and Stephen Rapundalo

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) chat during a recess of the council's meeting.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) also said he’d write a check for his 3%, noting that in tough times, symbols were important.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) slowed the momentum for check writing when he said he’d “be willing to give it some thought and consideration,” but noted that there were differences between the firefighters and city councilmembers at the level of benefits received.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) told the mayor, “I appreciate your leadership on this,” noting that the council was asking a great deal from everyone.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) thanked the mayor for leading the effort, emphasizing that it was largely symbolic. She noted that she could not write a check for an entire year, but would do it quarterly.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) allowed that she did not have a problem with symbolism. But she noted that the local officers compensation commission had met and determined that there would be no pay increases. She also noted that the fire department agreement affected one union contract only, and raised the question of what the other unions were doing. She wondered what the situation looked like for non-union workers.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) remarked, “It hardly seems rational not to join in this love-fest,” but then alluded to the historical background of how there’d been a great deal of manipulation of the discussion about council pay raises back in 2007, and that she’d held to her commitment made back then to give the 2007 raise – which she’d voted against – to charity.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) allowed that she had no problem following the spirit of the gesture, but that the amount per person of around $450 was not going to “shake loose the $5 million” shortfall they were facing. She then admonished her fellow councilmembers: “I hope you’re all as strong when it comes to tougher decisions.”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) did not speak to the issue.

Later in his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser, alluding to other city employees, noted that “some of our folks have been contributing already.”

Resolution Giving Recognition to Citizen Volunteers

Before the council was a resolution, brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), directing the city administrator to create an annual event that would honor and recognize the numerous volunteers who serve on boards, commissions and committees that help the city run.

Roger Fraser and Sandi Smith

City administrator Roger Fraser and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) as they discuss an event to honor citizen volunteers.

City administrator Roger Fraser remarked that such an event had been instituted in Blaine, Minn., where he’d previously been city manager, and that it had been well-received.

He reported that his recent success in dropping some weight had allowed him to fit into a commemorative T-shirt from that event in the early 2000s.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the creation of an event to honor citizen volunteers.

Co-Located 911 Dispatch

Before the council was a resolution to approve an increase in the project budget for the co-location of the city and county’s 911 dispatch center.

Previous coverage from the council’s Dec. 9, 2009 meeting:

The city of Ann Arbor has agreed to co-locate its 911 dispatch with the county’s operation – that will take place at the city’s existing location in fire station #1, across from city hall. The cost of the remodeling will be $48,183, but will be reimbursed from the 800 MHz public safety communications millage fund.

At Monday’s meeting, chief of police Barnett Jones called the co-location a “dream come true.” The expectation is that co-location will eventually lead to consolidation of the operations.

The cooperative effort with the county on 911 dispatch, Jones said, was part of an effort to regionalize services, which already included SWAT, K-9, and training. [See also: "County Reorganizes 911 Dispatch"]

The resolution before the council on Monday was to approve the purchase of a 911 phone switch for $258,983.

During the brief deliberations by the council, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) elicited from deputy police chief Greg Bazick that the consolidation has been talked about for almost as long has he’s worked on the force – 19 years. The cost savings would lie in the ability to eliminate duplicative technology costs.

City administrator Roger Fraser pointed out that for now, the arrangement would allow the city and county to work side-by-side, which was more economical, because by state law if they made it one operation, they would have to pay the more expensive of the two labor contracts.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the purchase of the 911 phone switch.

Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)

Although the capital improvements plan (CIP) was ultimately postponed, five people spoke to the issue during the public hearing on it.

Public Commentary on CIP

Thomas Partridge characterized one item on the plan as “selfish” on the part of the mayor – the Fuller Road Station, which in a second phase of construction could include amenities for bicyclists like showers and a mechanics shop. [Mayor John Hieftje sometimes rides his bicycle for transportation, and often mentions that he does so.] In the CIP, Phase I for the design and construction of Fuller Road Station, which is classified as “urgent,”  calls for $5.36 million to be contributed from the city’s economic development fund, with an additional $18 million coming from the University of Michigan.

Fuller Road Station was also addressed by Rita Mitchell, who echoed the sentiments of James D’Amour, who spoke to the council at its Jan. 4, 2010 meeting. D’Amour had objected to the arrangement between the city of Ann Arbor and UM for the land on which the Fuller Road Station will be built. D’Amour had characterized the arrangement as amounting to a permanent lease or a sale, which, as such, needed to be approved by voters. By way of background, on the Nov. 4, 2008 ballot had been an amendment to the Ann Arbor city charter, which was approved by voters by a 4-to-1 margin:

SECTION 14.3.
… (b) The City shall not sell without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the City voting on the question at a regular or special election, any City park, or land in the City acquired for park, cemetery, or any part thereof.

In addition to the city charter amendment is a clause of the state’s Home Rule City Act that also requires a referendum in order to sell land classified as a park. Specifically, among the powers explicitly not granted in the act:

… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city;

Supporters of the city charter amendment argued that such an amendment was necessary in order to rule out possible abuse of the exception specified in the Home Rule City Act. That is, to circumvent the state statute, one could first revise the official master plan of the city to designate some other use for a park, then sell the parcel based on the exception.

During the public hearing on the CIP, Mitchell told councilmembers that the arrangement with UM violated the intent of the charter amendment that citizens have a say in how parkland is used.

Mitchell also criticized another item in the CIP: the expansion of the materials recovery facility to accommodate a change to single-stream recycling. While single-stream recycling seemed simpler, Mitchell allowed, there was additional complexity on the back end – both in the additional sorting that would need to take place, and in the incentive system that would be implemented to encourage people to recycle more. The program fed into the idea of more use, not reduce, said Mitchell. She suggested that the goal should be to reduce the total amount in the waste stream.

Kathy Boris also questioned the conversion to single-stream recycling. Ann Arbor already had a working two-stream system, she said, and residents were educated about it. The point of recycling, she stressed, was to be able to sell the material so that it could be re-used, not to collect as much as possible. She expressed concern that the quality of the material collected under a single stream system would suffer.

[In his communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he'd read a report questioning some of the claims made for single-stream recycling on economic grounds and that he wanted to get a response from city staff. Roger Fraser said that solid waste coordinator Tom McMurtrie had responded to the report point-by-point, and that Rapundalo would get a copy.]

Focusing less on specific items in the CIP and more on general concepts was Karen Sidney, who asked: What’s your plan to keep up what you have? She urged the council to think in terms of questions like when will Vet’s Park skating rink need a new roof? [During his communications to council, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that this was, in fact, a part of the city's thinking, and cited his own experience in the late '90s as chair of the park advisory commission in support of that contention. Planning for facilities improvements has been going on for years, he said.]

Cresson Slotten

Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, sifts through the capital improvements plan (CIP) looking for a piece of data that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had requested.

Sidney also criticized the way that items in the CIP were characterized as a wish list, and the way the plan was defended with the assurance that the authorization for expenditures of the funds was not being voted on when the plan was approved – it’s just a plan. But when it came time to vote, she warned, councilmembers would point to the plan and say, “It’s been there for years!”

[During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser said that the CIP reflected the staff's "best guesses" and that it was, in fact, just a plan, but that a plan needs to be funded. That, he said, required that the items be in the plan long before the budget decision.]

Brad Mikus picked up on a theme that Thomas Partridge had introduced when Partridge described the CIP as a largely “unknown issue.” He noted that as he’d read through the plan there were several dramatic increases or decreases in funding levels for various projects, reasons for which were not immediately obvious – WALLY and Fuller Road Station, to name two. He challenged councilmembers to answer some specific questions about the CIP, among them: How many of the specific line items are in your ward?

Council Deliberations on CIP

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off by alerting his colleagues to the fact that he’d be asking for a postponement, as he had just received a copy of the plan – he didn’t move the postponement, however, in order to give his colleagues an opportunity to raise any questions. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, to find a specific item in the plan. No other councilmembers had any comments on the plan, so the deliberations came to a halt as Slotten searched through a paper copy of the plan.

At that point, Kunselman moved to postpone the vote on the plan.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the CIP.

Bicycles and Pedestrians

Back for their second reading before the council were two ordinances – one regarding bicycles and pedestrians and another on bicycle registration. The material effect of the ordinance revisions to the bicycle code is to repeal the city’s existing ordinances, with the idea that the Michigan Vehicle Code would apply where relevant. The ordinances to be repealed have counterparts in the MVC. For example:

[City] 10:172. Brakes.
Every bicycle shall be equipped with at least 1 effective brake.
(Ord. No. 46-61, 8-14-61; Ord. No. 26-74, 8-19-74)

[State] 257.662 Bicycles or electric personal assistive mobility device; equipment; violation as civil infraction.
(2) A bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

[The Chronicle's set of the respective city-state pairings is available as a text file: statecitybicycle.txt.]

Bicycles: Public Comment

Three people spoke during the public hearing on the bicycle ordinance revision. Erica Briggs spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition – she’s also currently a member of the city’s planning commission and previously served as director of the getDowntown program. Briggs said that WBWC fully supported the revisions to the ordinances and suggested that the fee reduction from $8 to $3 for registration be even further reduced. She also said that they’d like to see progress made towards an ordinance that would require drivers to stop when a pedestrian approached a crosswalk, not just after entering.

Brad Mikus asked that councilmembers consider the question of enforcement – bicycles are required to have headlights, for example, as well as make an audible sound when passing a pedestrian. He also asked that councilmembers take a look at the definition of a bike path, which had been somewhat simplified.

Thomas Partridge told the council that the public had not been informed as to whether the ordinance would help disabled people or seniors. He also related an encounter on a sidewalk with a bicycle-mounted Ann Arbor policeman, who’d approached from behind with no lights.

Bicycles: Council Deliberations

During deliberations, Marcia Higgins (Ward 2) wanted to know why the references to the MVC were still not included. She’d requested them at the previous council meeting, when the ordinance revision had been approved on its first reading. Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, pointed out that the MVC was referenced in the ordinance revision. It reads:

10:160. Driver regulation applicable.

Every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle under the Michigan Vehicle Code, 1949 PA 300, MCL 257.1 to 257.923 and as subsequently amended, which is incorporated by reference in Chapter 126 of this Code, except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application. A complete copy of the code is available to the public for inspection in the Office of the Ann Arbor City Clerk.

Cooper said that a copy of the specific text of the MVC could be made available at the city clerk’s office.

Higgins, however, insisted that this was not user-friendly and stated that her previous direction had not been taken seriously. She wanted the text of the MVC to be included in the city’s code, and if there was some reason why it could not be included, she wanted to know why not.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked for clarification as to whether Higgins wanted the code itself to repeat the text of the MVC, or if instead that she meant it to be included in editorial fashion after publication. City attorney Stephen Postema said that typically it would be added in editorial fashion, but that he could not think of a reason offhand why it couldn’t be included in the code itself.

Higgins said that inclusion of the language in the code would force the council to make updates on a more regular basis.

With a motion for postponement on the floor, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that in the intervening time period, a more detailed description of the educational campaign be made available to councilmembers. The campaign had previously been discussed by council. Cooper said he believed that it had been made available – in the form of a response to a “caucus question” he’d sent to the council. City administrator Roger Fraser weighed in, saying that staff would review the matter and make sure that the council had the information.

Outcome: The bicycle and pedestrian ordinance revisions were postponed.

When the council came to the ordinance revision addressing registration procedures for bicycles, Carsten Hohnke noted that there’d been some conversation around exactly how the registration process would be structured. He moved to postpone that item as well.

Outcome: The bicycle registration ordinance revision was postponed.

An agenda item connected to bicycle registration would have changed the fee from $8 lifetime to $3 for five years and provided an educational packet to a registrant. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by saying he was against the revision, saying that $8 was too expensive, especially in these economic times. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) then clarified that the $8 fee was proposed to be replaced with a $3 fee, but took Kunselman’s point, suggesting that the fee be reduced even further.

Hohnke then suggested that it would be prudent to postpone the matter.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked how much it actually cost the city to do the registration. Cooper answered that to produce the educational materials was just under $3 and there was a nominal amount of staff time to maintain the records.

Hohnke asked how much the cost would drop if the bicycle map were not included. Cooper explained that the map cost around $1.90 – it was made of an “indestructible medium,” and could be used in the rain. Cooper pointed out that the map also included some safety information.

Outcome: Consideration of the bicycle registration fee and educational packet was postponed.

Parking Fines

At their previous meeting, on Jan. 4, 2010, the council had approved a resolution to take fines for specific violations – handicap, odd/even districts and snow emergencies – and put them on the same schedule as other violations.

At that meeting Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had queried city treasurer Matthew Horning: Is this the revision to the fee schedule? Horning clarified that it was not. That would come before the council at the next meeting (Jan. 18), he had said then. Smith had asked that it be delayed until after the Downtown Development Authority had submitted the parking report that council had requested of the DDA, via a resolution, at its Dec.  21, 2009 meeting.[Chronicle coverage: "Most Aspects of Parking Deal Approved"]

What was before the council on Jan. 18, then, was the revision to the actual fine amounts. The new fine schedule includes an increase from $15 to $20 for the basic expired meter fine. [Chronicle coverage of Nov. 9, 2009 working session: "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"]

Consistent with her remarks at the previous meeting, Smith then moved for a postponement until April, after which the DDA will have submitted its report to the council.

Outcome: The parking fine fee schedule was postponed.

State Rep. Pam Byrnes

State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-District 52) gave a presentation to the council outlining the current economic conditions in Michigan. Some of the council conversation focused on term limits. The topic emerged from mayor John Hieftje’s remark to Byrnes that if the state was going to reduce funding to municipalities, then it needed to provide additional taxing authority to those municipalities. The need to enact longer-term solutions like the kind of structural change the mayor was talking about, said Byrnes, might need to be preceded by elimination of term limits.

Other Public Commentary

A total of five people spoke during the time allotted for public commentary – either during reserved time at the start of the meeting or at the end, when no advance sign-up is necessary.

Library Lot RFP: Financial Return

Karen Sidney addressed one of the three objectives specified in the city’s request for proposals (RFP) to develop the Library Lot – the objective specifying that there be a financial return to the city. Using taxes to subsidize a development was not a financial return, she said. She also encouraged the council to think about the increased cost of population density – even as tax revenues increased, she cautioned, there was a parallel increase in the cost of services required by additional people.

How Should Ann Arbor Change?

John Floyd made his remarks at the end of the meeting during the slot for general public commentary. He began by expressing his appreciation for the attempts to coordinate the city and county – alluding to the co-location of the 911 dispatch center.

John Floyd

John Floyd spoke during public commentary at the end of the council meeting.

He then introduced a topic he’s raised with Ward 5 councilmember Carsten Hohnke before at city council, based on Hohnke’s remarks that Ann Arbor could look to cities like Portland, Seattle and Boulder as examples for inspiration. When Hohnke did not appear to be paying attention to him, Floyd said, “I’ll wait until you have moment to pay attention.” The pause, which could fairly be described as awkward – Floyd standing at the podium and Hohnke looking intently downward – was broken by Floyd saying, “Any time you’re ready,” and then continued for some seconds.

Hohnke looked up, and Floyd asked Hohnke to enumerate three or four ways that Ann Arbor should change to be like the cities he’d mentioned – should Ann Arbor, for example, grow its population to be like them?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thomas Partridge told the council that he was contemplating running for either the state house seat in the 52nd District or else the 18th Senate District. He noted that he’d met Martin Luther King, Jr. a year before his death when he spoke on the campus of Michigan State University, where King held held forth, speaking for 45 minutes without notes. Partridge said we must challenge the old premises and – alluding to Pam Byrnes’ discussion of term limits as a reason why structural changes are hard – suggested the problem was not term limits, but rather attitudes and behavior of elected officials.

Palestine

Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabiesfahani both spoke to the issue of Palestine.

Coleman began by saying that Israel had massacred Gaza one year ago and left 1,400 Palestineans dead. A supporter of the Israeli defense forces, Coleman said, had been appointed to the Ann Arbor human rights commission: Neal Elyakin. [The city council approved Elyakin's appointment to the commission on Dec. 7, 2009.] On Elyakin’s blog, Coleman reported, Elyakin had written that “the term ‘Palestinean’ is a masterful twisting of history” and before the military action in Gaza, he had written “Let Israel do what Israel does.” Coleman asked if that was the public face that Ann Arbor wanted to present. Coleman carried a sign that read “Boycott Israel” and concluded his remarks with that sentiment.

When mayor John Hieftje introduced Savabiesfahani he stumbled on her name and observed that it seemed to be misspelled on the council agenda. [It was misspelled.] She remarked that she’d spoken often enough at the city council that she felt like he should know how to pronounce her name. Hieftje – who often listens as people run roughshod over the pronunciation of his own name – shot back: “Can you say mine?” She then delivered the name “Hieftje” correctly, saying, “I do my homework.” In the substance of her remarks, Savabiesfahani criticized the U.S. for the ongoing wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. She noted that in discussions of ways to trim the budget, “not a single penny has been denied Israel” by the U.S. She said that in the same way that the U.S. EPA and FDA had become obsolete, Hieftje’s appointment of Elyakin to the human rights commission was making that body obsolete. She concluded her remarks with “Boycott Israel.”

Homelessness

Lilly Au described conditions at a tent city of homeless people in Ann Arbor – ice on sleeping bags that comes from the water vapor freezing. She lamented the fact that there is no day warming center, noting that the downtown library had become a de facto day warming station. But the library, she said, had rules against sleeping that could result in expulsion from the facility. She said that many homeless people are under treatment for mental illnesses and that the medication they take makes them drowsy.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


Jan 21, 2010

Ann Arbor firefighters hose down burning chair

012010_house-fire.jpg

Firefighters walk away from a home on Crosby Crescent after keeping a fire that started on a chair from spreading to the rest of the house.

Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor firefighters hosed down a burning chair this afternoon before it spread to a home at 1214 Crosby Crescent.

Homeowner David Miller called 911 to report his basement was full of smoke just before noon.

 

 

Miller had been out of the house for about an hour late in the morning when he returned home to the smell of smoke and the smoke detector activating.

Firefighters arrived and found a chair smoldering in the basement. They removed it from the house and hosed it down on the sidewalk.

 

Though no damage was done to the house, Lt. Scott Robertson said the Millers were lucky the fire hadn't spread beyond the chair. He said the pressure of the smoke and heat would have eventually caused the chair to burst into flames and could have spread further.

Robertson said the cause of the fire is not known. Miller said he plans to inspect his basement fireplace and electric system to prevent future fires from occurring.


Jan 20, 2010

City firefighters get pay cuts, layoffs postponed

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By: Debjani Mukherjee
For the Daily
Published January 20th, 2010

In an effort to cope with the city’s mounting budget deficit, Ann Arbor firefighters will take a four percent wage reduction, according to their new contract, which was passed at last night’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting.

City Council and the Ann Arbor firefighter station — Firefighters Local 693 — came to an agreement on the contract last Wednesday, after weeks of negotiations. The new contract, which had previously been ratified by the Ann Arbor Firefighters Union, is effective through June 30, 2010.

Though the contract guarantees that there won’t be any layoffs during the period covered by the contract, the pay cuts didn’t escape criticism from the union.

“We cannot take any more pay cuts,” Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor Firefighters Union told The Michigan Daily in an interview last week, after the agreement was reached.

The contract also includes a 1-percent increase in employee pension contributions and a 50 percent reduction in the city’s contribution to employee health care reimbursement accounts.

The union membership has asked the City Council to also take a pay cut, and in response, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje wrote a check to the city for 3 percent of his salary of $42,432. Many City Council members followed his lead, offering to write checks for the same amount or less. Three percent of each City Council member’s salary amounts to about $450.

“I think we need to respect what the fire department has done,” Hieftje said at last night’s meeting.

Though the city’s firefighters received a cut in their salaries, they were able to maintain their current health benefits.

City Administrator Roger Fraser said he was disappointed the firefighters union wasn’t willing to accept reductions in its health insurance packages, as other unions in the city have done.

“Some of our folks have been contributing in ways others haven’t,” Fraser said at the meeting last night.

Negotiations for the contract that will succeed the current contract when it expires at the end of June will start in a few weeks. The Ann Arbor fire station faces the possibility of steep budget reductions.

Schroeder said that Tom Crawford, chief financial officer of the city of Ann Arbor, said 11 percent of the station’s budget — anywhere from $1.4 to $2.4 million — needs to be cut by July 1, 2010, which could result in the station being forced to layoff 14 firefighters.

“We’ve put a bandage on the problem until July,” Schroeder said. “We face a daunting task as to how to overcome this.”

The firefighters union is also worried about complying with federal standards, as Local 693 is already currently operating below the minimum number of firefighters mandated by the National Fire Protection Association.

The union hopes to involve the University in looking for ways to find a solution to its financial problems, as the school inhabits a large area of the city, Schroeder said.

Hieftje said the ratification and approval of the contract doesn’t completely solve the budget deficit problem the city is currently facing, though it is a step in the right direction. Other ways to finance the public safety budget are currently being evaluated.

“This is a time of shared sacrifice,” City Councilmember Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4), said at last night’s meeting.


Jan 19, 2010

Ann Arbor mayor and most council members take symbolic pay cut

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje put his money where his mouth is tonight by writing a check to the city for $1,273.

The donation represents 3 percent of his $42,432 salary - a voluntary pay reduction Hieftje is asking each of the city's labor groups to make in contract negotiations.

John_Hieftje_011910.jpg

Mayor John Hieftje agreed to donate 3 percent of his salary back to the city tonight. Several Ann Arbor City Council members did the same, but others were hesitant.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Hieftje's actions came as the Ann Arbor City Council voted tonight to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with the city's firefighters union, which has agreed to a voluntary 3 percent pay cut to avoid layoffs for six months.

"I think we need to respect what the fire department has done," Hieftje said.

Hieftje's symbolic gesture was followed by announcements from several council members that they'd be willing to write a check to the city for 3 percent of their salary - or $477 each.

Those who vowed to do so immediately included Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, and Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward.

Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, agreed to give back 3 percent of her salary but acknowledged it's only a drop in the bucket.

"We're not talking about something that's really going to shake loose the $5 million gap we've been talking about," she said, adding she hopes council members who agreed to give 3 percent back will be willing to be as strong when the council is faced with tougher decisions in the coming months.

Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, and Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, said they'd be willing to give back $477 over the next year, but weren't in a position to cut a check for the full amount right now. Teall said she'd make payments quarterly.

Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, and Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, gave no indication during the meeting whether they'd be willing to give up any portion of their salaries.

During a break in the meeting, Anglin told AnnArbor.com he wouldn't give any money back to the city but plans to make a donation to charity instead.

Higgins said it was too early for council to agree to a pay cut when the rest of the city's labor force has not yet stepped up and made the same pledge.

Kunselman simply said no.

"I think it's fine that everybody wants to contribute back to the city - they must have the means. I don't," he said. "I have a son in college. I have twin 16-year-old daughters and a wife that's working a job with no benefits. Times are tough. I give back what I can. I drive a 20-year-old car."

Stephen Rapundao, D-2nd Ward, said he'd be willing to consider the mayor's proposal, but said it will be a personal choice, and he hasn't yet made up his mind on it.

Beyond the ceremonial gesture by council members tonight was the larger issue of the new contract with the firefighters union.

Fraser said the new contract doesn't accomplish the city's short-term financial objectives for reductions in fire service costs, but is still a major step in the right direction.

Fraser had hoped to save the city $396,000 over the next six months by eliminating 14 firefighter positions six months earlier than planned. But the city agreed to put those layoffs on hold through June under the new contract.

According to CFO Tom Crawford, the contract changes - which include a 3 percent wage reduction for six months and a 1 percent increase in pension contributions for five months - represent a total savings of $151,250. Actions taken by management to eliminate one vacant firefighter position and institute a change in vehicle policy will save another $120,000.

Fraser pointed out in an e-mail to council members before tonight's meeting that the fire department was spared any significant cuts in the last two fiscal year budgets, while police and other general fund service units took hits.

"That recent budgeting history explains why reductions in expense were now expected in fire," Fraser said. "From an employee compensation perspective, these are the very first negatives the fire employees have faced while continuing to enjoy mostly unchanged contract terms. During the past two fiscal years, other city employees have experienced increased benefit costs, and pay freezes."

The firefighters union says the pay cuts its member are taking - in addition to increased pension contributions - technically amount to a 4 percent reduction in compensation. Matt Schroeder, union president, said the city's firefighters are leading by example in responding to the mayor's call for voluntary pay cuts and hoping for the same from everyone in city government.

According Crawford's estimates, the city could save $1.93 million in the next fiscal year if all of the city's labor groups followed suit and took a 4 percent cut in total compensation. About $1.1 million of that would be found in the general fund.

The city also would save $5,814 if it trimmed Fraser's $145,356 salary by 4 percent. Fraser gave no indication tonight whether he'd be willing to take a pay cut, but has pointed out several times recently that he hasn't received a pay raise in several years - though he has gotten lump sum bonuses.

Fraser was hired in 2002 with a salary of $133,000. In December 2004, he received a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 2004.

In December 2005, he received a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 2005 and 10 extra vacation days, which can be exchanged for cash. In February 2007, he received a one-time payment of $8,479.48, plus a life insurance policy worth twice his salary.

In November 2007, the City Council approved a lump sum payment of $4,361 and five extra vacation days. In October 2008, the council approved giving Fraser another lump sum payment of $3,634 and the ability to cash out 150 hours of vacation, sick or personal time.

This past November, Fraser's contract was revised again to include a clause that allowed him to cash out an additional 120 hours of accumulated paid time off before June 30, 2010.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Jan 17, 2010

Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti fire departments explore creating 'functional district' to improve service

 

Ypsilanti_Fire1.jpg

Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco supports a larger "functional district" to cover Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

 

When a house at 1208 Washtenaw Avenue near the Eastern Michigan University campus in Ypsilanti burned recently, a cell phone call to report the fire was routed to the Ann Arbor Fire Department. 

That department dispatched trucks to the same address on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor.

By the time the Ann Arbor department discovered the home was in Ypsilanti and alerted the Ypsilanti Fire Department, the house was destroyed.

Situations like that highlight how boundaries between the two jurisdictions have complicated firefighting efforts. But fire officials say they hope such situations could be avoided under their plan for a “functional district” to cover both cities.

Under the plan, all fire calls would be routed to a central dispatch center, and dispatchers would send the closest trucks to the scene.

“If we had a functional district, the closest engine would have responded," Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said. "We lost that house, and we wouldn’t have.”

Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti’s fire departments are close to an agreement on creating a "functional district" that would allow them to manage operating procedures together while maintaining their own identities.

It's an idea that's been explored for at least two years, but one that's gaining momentum as both departments cut their ranks and look for ways to save money. Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are both struggling with budget deficits in the millions, and public safety cuts are on the table in both cities.

In Ann Arbor, a plan to lay off 14 firefighters was recently postponed for at least six months when the firefighters union agreed to a new contract with 4 percent in wage and pension concessions. In Ypsilanti, the city manager recently presented a plan to cut six positions from the 18-member fire department.

Officials from both fire departments say an agreement is nearly ready, and they're hoping to bring it before their respective city councils sometime in the next several months. It's not clear yet whether neighboring townships will opt in, expanding the district beyond the two cities.

Officials say safety and efficiency could be improved in such an arrangement and are the motivating factors for pushing forward, despite some opposition.

“It’s all about firefighter safety,” Ichesco said. “We’re going to have fewer and fewer people because of cutbacks.”

 

Thumbnail image for fire_truck.jpg

Ann Arbor firefighters return to the station last week after voting on a new contract that contains concessions. Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

 

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski agreed.

“It’s about more efficient service to the community, and it also balances in with firefighter safety,” he said.

While personnel cuts increase the need for collaboration between the two departments, those proposed reductions also jeopardize and complicate efforts to come to an agreement.

“It definitely makes things harder,” Ichesco said of the looming cuts. “We have to have a baseline of people so we have an understanding of what we’re doing. It’s fragile, and people could become scared and react negatively to this or they could say, ‘We’re all in trouble, and we need to pull our resources.’”

Dziubinski also said the instability is cause for concern.

“We’re a department that’s on edgy ground right now,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to provide them with what we stated in the original agreement if there are cuts, so we need to see how everyone’s city budgets shape up for the next fiscal year.”

The idea for a larger fire district currently only includes Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but Ichesco said it could be expanded to bring in Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township, Superior Township and Ann Arbor Township if those jurisdictions are interested.

But some of the townships appear hesitant because they use an "automatic mutual aid" system, which guarantees assistance from neighboring townships. Under automatic mutual aid pacts, firefighters from more than one department are automatically dispatched to the scene on certain calls, such as reported structure fires.

Fire departments also can request mutual aid after arriving at a scene, a practice that officials say has become more commonplace in the last few years as the fire departments have shrunk.

Ichesco said some smaller departments have reservations about joining a larger fire district because they don’t want to regularly make trips into the cities when far fewer fires occur in the townships, creating an inequitable arrangement.

 

Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor fire officials say 2009 mutual aid responses between jurisdictions show a larger district wouldn't lead to smaller departments subsidizing larger ones.

In 2009:

  • Superior Township provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti once more than it received it.
  • Ypsilanti provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti Township 15 times more than it received it.
  • Ann Arbor provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti two more times than it received it.

 

 

Ann Arbor Township Fire Chief Rick Ericson remains skeptical.

“My concern is we as a township cannot afford to subsidize other fire departments,” he said. “They need to evaluate their operation from the top down, and, in my opinion, there have been mistakes made over there in both administrations and with the firefighters. They need to go back and find their errors and repair them.”

 

Pittsfield Township Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger was more open to the idea, but said he didn’t want to speak on the matter too much until the next meeting between the chiefs.

“We’re going to wait and see how things pan out,” he said. “If there are opportunities we deem good for our communities and neighboring communities, then we want to look at them.”

 

 

Dziubinski said the stations that would most benefit in Ann Arbor are Stations 4 and 5, which are in the northeast corner of the city and far away from the other three Ann Arbor stations.

Neighboring Ann Arbor Township could be called to assist Station 4 or 5 on calls, but those stations also would respond to township emergencies, Dziubinski said. Ann Arbor's stations are closer than those in Northfield Township, Green Oak Township and Chelsea, which currently send aid to Ann Arbor Township.

“They’re out there by themselves trying to function, and it takes a long time for the others to get there,” Dziubinski said. “The whole goal is to be able to send the closest unit.”

Officials also point out sending closer units means the departments can meet firefighter safety regulations more quickly, especially the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's “two in, two out” rule. That regulation requires four firefighters on the scene before any can enter a burning building.

“Why do we need a chief in every town and every town to have their own gear?” Ichesco said. “The whole idea is to get people there as quick as possible. If you were dying, you wouldn’t care what patch or what truck is coming to rescue you.”

Once a unit is on the scene, the highest ranking officer in the first arriving unit would be the commander. From there, the command structure would work nearly the same as it does now.

 

Ypsilanti_fire2.jpg

Ypsilanti fire officials say equipment consolidation could be another advantage of a "functional district" for fire departments.

Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

 

Ichesco and Dziubinski see another potential advantage in consolidating equipment each department must own. As separate entities, each department needs one of each type of truck, even it’s only used once or twice a year. That same truck may be one another department uses regularly.

Instead of a department purchasing a $500,000 truck it only uses once a year, the truck used regularly by a neighboring department could be sent when needed.

“It's standardization,” Ichesco said. “When we buy trucks, we buy the proper trucks for the proper area. Our purchasing power goes up.” 

Union support to the plan remains a hurdle. Ypsilanti firefighter Ken Hobbs, the union president, said firefighters were on board at the effort’s outset, but that support has died as they've been excluded from many of the recent talks and negotiations.

Hobbs said the unions are no longer welcome at the meetings to discuss forming a functional district, and he was concerned about statements Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber made at last Monday’s budget meeting.

Hobbs said the original document had a clause that precluded further layoffs, but that has since disappeared from the dialogue and documents. He said he now believes the city councils see the district as an opportunity to lay off firefighters because other departments would provide backup.

“They are spinning it how they want,” he said. “They see the functional district as a way to supplement our manpower and lay people off.”

Dziubinski said he recognizes the potential stumbling blocks and wants to work through them as quickly as possible.

“The unions want protective language, and so do the chiefs, and we want to make sure one department wouldn’t be supplementing fire coverage for the other,” he said. “I think the local governments have to be aware of that.”

Schreiber said he believes the nature of firefighting is changing, especially as improvements in fire prevention lead to fewer fire emergencies and more medical runs.

He views the prospect of a functional district as a step in the right direction toward an eventual regional fire authority. But he also said he wants to see the current agreement before committing his support.

“I’ve said numerous times the functional district is a good idea, and I think everyone on council feels the same,” he said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at news@annarbor.com or 734-623-2530.


Jan 15, 2010

Person dies after jumping off Ann Arbor parking structure

A person died today after jumping off a parking structure at East Washington Street and South Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor police said.

The incident occurred about 1 p.m, said police spokeswoman Lt. Angella Abrams.

Abrams declined to release any other information about the person because family members have not been notified, she said.


Jan 14, 2010

Updated: Ann Arbor firefighters union approves new contract that includes voluntary pay cuts

fire_truck.jpg

Firefighters at Station One return from a call Wednesday night as the news is announced that a new contract for Local 693, which includes pay cuts, was approved by the union.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

The jobs of 13 Ann Arbor firefighters were spared Wednesday night as the membership of Local 693 voted to ratify a new labor contract that includes a voluntary pay cut.

Union president Matt Schroeder said Local 693 members accepted a compensation package that included a 4 percent decrease in wages and a guarantee of no reductions in force through June. He pointed out the new agreement offers the city significant savings - beyond what the mayor asked for at a recent meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje has asked all of the city's labor unions to agree to take a voluntary 3 percent pay cut in the next year to help the city confront a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

"Our membership realizes the financial crunch that our city faces and further realizes the importance of the department continuing to provide our current minimal basic services," Schroeder said.

Schroeder said while firefighters were willing to take a pay cut for the greater good of the city, considering future cutbacks that include station closures and reductions in force should not be acceptable.

"The public's safety weighed heavily in our decision-making process, and we hope it will also weigh heavily on the minds of our politcal leaders in the near future as we continue through this difficult period," he said. "We continue to look at ways to maintain the current protection in July and are looking for ways to problem solve with our leaders."

City Administrator Roger Fraser agreed to postpone the layoff of 13 firefighters for another six months, pending ratification of the new contract.

fire_truck_2.jpg

Several fire engines were parked outside Station One in downtown Ann Arbor Wednesday night during voting on the new Local 693 contract. All of the trucks left in unison shortly before 8 p.m., sounding their sirens as they headed to a call.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Schroeder said the union doesn't disclose vote counts, but a significant number of the 80-plus firefighters who voted were in favor of ratifying the contract. He said the city's firefighters have led by example and expect other labor unions and top city officials to follow suit.

"Our membership has shown its committment to our citizens by leading our peers and leadership in tough cuts," he said. "The consensus from our local is that we would hope that council and the administrator would follow our lead in accepting a 4 percent cut."

Based on a report showing base wages for Ann Arbor firefighters totaled $6.22 million last year, the city stands to save at least $249,000 a year from the 4 percent reduction. Another $509,687 was paid out in overtime and banked comp time last year, a figure that could go down, too.

Sirens sounded at Station One downtown shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday as several trucks outside the station left in unison to respond to a reported fire. Some firefighters made their way out on foot to go celebrate the contract's passage.

"We were two of the ones getting laid off," said Jon Lukosavich, joined by fellow firefighter Michael DeCraene.

The two, who will keep their jobs for at least six more months now, acknowledged there was a lot of uncertainty going into the vote since a voluntary pay cut required a gesture of good will on the part of firefighters with seniority in the union.

"It was good to see we were able to pull together," Lukosavich said. "This says that our department's willing to take a pay cut to help the city and help the citizens and make this a better city to live in. That's what we're here for is to help people. I think taking the pay cut shows that we're willing to do that. We realize that we're in tough times, so we're willing to make our sacrifice as long as everybody else makes a sacrifice, too."

The firefighters union had been without a contract since last June. The new agreement covers a one-year period from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, meaning negotiations likely will pick up again this spring to hammer out a longer-term contract to carry the department beyond the current fiscal year.

It's not yet known what will happen to the 13 firefighters after June. Another position remains vacant, for a total of 14 positions possibly on the line.

"We just hope we can work with the city in the future and we can come up with an agreement to keep our citizens safe and keep us firefighters safe, and still provide a high level of service," DeCraene said. "It's important that the citizens have the staffing levels remain the same."

The elimination of 14 firefighters was included as part of the plan for cutting costs in the next fiscal year budget starting in July. But Fraser last month proposed moving the layoffs up to January to save an extra $400,000 this current fiscal year.

The city had projected general fund revenues of $86 million this year and now expects $82 million. Next year, the city had expected general fund revenues of $83 million, but now expects an amount closer to $76 million.

Fraser gathered city employees under the roof of the Michigan Theater on Tuesday to deliver news of the city's grim budget picture. At that meeting, Fraser encouraged the city's workers to try their best to stay positive and said he and other city leaders, including Ann Arbor City Council members, will do their best to make the right choices as the city looks to trim its struggling budget by millions of dollars.

With police and fire services accounting for about half of the city's general fund budget, cuts in those areas are inevitable, city leaders say.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Jan 13, 2010

Ann Arbor firefighters union approves new contract that includes voluntary pay cuts

The jobs of 13 Ann Arbor firefighters were spared tonight as the membership of the Local 693 voted to ratify a new labor contract rumored to include major concessions.

The details of the tentative agreement are not yet public, but union president Matt Schroeder confirmed the agreement includes a voluntary pay cut and offers the city significant savings - beyond what the mayor had asked for at a recent meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje has asked that all of the city's labor unions agree to take a voluntary 3 percent pay cut in the next year to help the city confront a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

City Administrator Roger Fraser agreed to postpone the layoff of 13 firefighters for another 6 months pending ratification of the new contract. Schroeder said he's planning to make an official statement on Thursday regarding what exactly the fire department has agreed to give up for the greater good of the city.

Schroeder said the union does not disclose vote counts, but a significant number of the 80-plus firefighters who voted were in favor of ratifying the contract.

Sirens sounded outside Station One downtown shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday night as firefighters made their way out of the station to celebrate the contract's passage.

"We were two of the ones getting laid off," said Jon Lukosavich, joined by fellow firefighter Michael DeCraene.

The two, who will keep their jobs for at least 6 more months now, acknowledged there was a lot of uncertainty going into tonight's vote, as a voluntary pay cut required a gesture of good will on the part of firefighters with seniority in the union.

"It was good to see we were able to pull together," Lukosavich said. "This says that our department's willing to take a pay cut to help the city and help the citizens and make this a better city to live in. That's what we're here for is to help people. I think taking the pay cut shows that we're willing to do that. We realize that we're in tough times, so we're willing to make our sacrifice as long as everybody else makes a sacrifice, too."

It's still uncertain what will happen to the 13 firefighters whose jobs still are on the chopping block in 6 months. Another position remains vacant, for a total of 14 positions slated to be cut.

"We just hope we can work with the city in the future and we can come up with an agreement to keep our citizens safe and keep us firefighters safe, and still provide a high level of service," DeCraene said. "It's important that the citizens have the staffing levels remain the same."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Jan 12, 2010

Fire destroys garage in Ann Arbor, damages home and neighboring property

A fire destroyed a garage and damaged a home and another garage on Ann Arbor's southeast side Sunday afternoon.

Ann Arbor Fire Department units were at a small fire in the 2200 block of Fuller Road when they were called to 3226 Edgewood Drive to fight a garage fire at 2:20 p.m. Sunday, a press release said.

Fire was spreading into the house where the attached garage was located and to the garage next door when firefighters arrived, the press release said. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze and saved the house and the garage next door.

Paramedics treated the homeowner at the scene but did not take him to the hospital, the press release said.

Cause of the fire and a damage estimate were not available, but the garage and the car inside were destroyed, the release said. The house had minor to moderate damage, and heat melted siding on the garage next door


Jan 04, 2010

Ann Arbor woman hospitalized after saving dog from Huron River

An Ann Arbor woman is being treated for exposure after falling into the Huron River while trying to rescue a dog that ran into the river this evening, authorities say.

At about 5 p.m., two women were walking their dogs in a small park across from Huron High School on Fuller Road when one woman's dog chased a duck and fell into the Huron River, said Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

The owner, trying to retrieve the dog, fell into the river herself. The Ann Arbor police and fire departments, the Ann Arbor Township Fire Department and Huron Valley Ambulance all responded to the scene.

While the dog was able to climb on her to get out of the river, the woman was in the river for about 10 minutes before an Ann Arbor police officer rescued her, Vogel said.

The officer, who also fell in the river, was treated at the scene. The woman was rushed in an ambulance to the University of Michigan Hospital with signs of frostbite, including skin discoloration and waxy fingertips, officials said. No further details are available this evening.

"That water is 35-degrees at best," Vogel said. "She was talking at the scene. She was cold, but she was talking."

The dog is fine and did not have to be treated, he said.


Jan 02, 2010

Starting the Year with Fire and Ambulance

New Year's Eve at Huron Valley Ambulance
Huron Valley Ambulance call taker

Huron Valley Ambulance supervisor Terry Pappas, working on New Year's Eve. (Photos by the writer.)

The ball in Times Square has dropped a couple hours earlier.

Now, Terry Pappas, shift supervisor at Huron Valley Ambulance, is on the line with an elderly caller who’s lying on the floor, unable to get back into her chair.

“I know you’re miserable,” Pappas comforts the caller, as they wait together for the ambulance to arrive.

And then, still lying on her side on the floor of her apartment, still audibly in distress, the caller musters a surprising bit of cheer. She offers Pappas the salutation of the night: “Happy New Year!” Pappas responds in kind. The caller tells Pappas she didn’t watch the ball drop – you know what’s going to happen, she says … it drops every year.

A few minutes later, HVA staff can be heard in the background. They confirm for Pappas that they’re on the scene, and Pappas and her crew move on to fielding other calls.

It was not by accident that The Chronicle chose to spend part of New Year’s Eve with Huron Valley Ambulance.

Recent labor negotiations between the city of Ann Arbor and the firefighters union have included discussion of how many responses firefighters make to various kinds of calls. The union has pointed out that their work includes considerably more than fire suppression calls.

They made roughly 250 responses to fires last year. But they also responded to over 3,300 medical emergency calls. [.txt file of "What We Do." Also, see Chronicle coverage: "Firefighters Speak Out, New Council Committees Formed"]

Our interest in getting a little insight into firefighter responses to medical emergencies was also piqued by a recent Stopped.Watched. item:

Library Lot

10:20 a.m. Woman lying prone on sidewalk next to construction fence on east side of street after fall. Cyclist in full road racing kit tending to her. Fire department and Huron Valley Ambulance on scene a few minutes later.

– observed by HD on November 14, 2009

And finally, there’s been a recent change to the way fire dispatch is handled for the city of Ann Arbor. On Dec. 1, Huron Valley Ambulance began handling fire dispatch for the Ann Arbor fire department, working out of the HVA dispatch center on South State Street, just south of I-94. The contracts necessary to make that change possible were approved by the Ann Arbor city council at its June 15, 2009 meeting.

Previous Fire Dispatch

If HVA now handles fire dispatch, who handled it before? But more importantly, what does it mean to handle fire dispatch?

Huron Valley Ambulance Call Center

Danny Blaszkiewicz turned back to the supervisor's desk to clarify some communication. Blaszkiewicz was providing support for ambulance dispatching.

A fire dispatcher is someone who tells the fire department when, where, and what vehicles to roll down the road. Obviously, average citizens don’t make a call to the fire department – they call 911.

The city of Ann Arbor’s 911 call center is located in fire station #1 across from city hall on Fifth Avenue. It’s currently being remodeled to accommodate co-location with the county’s 911 call center, with an eye towards possible consolidation. [Chronicle coverage: "County Reorganizes 911 Dispatch"]

Ann Arbor city council approved the roughly $50,000 expenditure for that remodel at its Dec. 7, 2009 meeting. The money will be reimbursed to the city from the 800 MHz public safety communications millage fund.

Even before the change to HVA as the fire dispatching entity, HVA was involved in some decisions to send firetrucks to a scene. Here’s a quick sketch of how it previously worked.

[Call]

[911 center]
[fire-protection-related] →  [send firetrucks]
[any of 5 "auto-send" medicals] → [send firetrucks]
[any of 28 other medicals]

[HVA]
[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances]
[as medical information dictates]

[911 center]
[based on HVA request] →  [send firetrucks]

Key to understanding that sketch is the fact that oftentimes firetrucks are sent to a scene not based on an assessment that there’s a fire danger – they’re sent in order to increase the chances that some medical first-responder can arrive on the scene fast enough to make a difference.

With six fire stations distributed throughout the city of Ann Arbor, putting firefighters in play for medical responses reduces the time it takes to put someone on the scene who can begin to administer aid.

EMD protocall for "Falls"

Emergency medical dispatch (EMD) protocol for "Falls" (Image links to higher resolution file.)

So reflecting on the Stopped.Watched. item about the woman who’d fallen on the sidewalk, the fire dispatcher didn’t send a firetruck because there was a fire that needed dousing. Rather, the medical facts of the call dictated that the fire department was dispatched to the scene.

Dispatchers don’t make that judgment based on whimsy. There’s a book of EMD (emergency medical dispatch) cards for various kinds of incidents – including a card for “Falls.”

It’s possible that the medical facts of that pedestrian fall were unclear, which would be enough to send the fire department on the call. Per the “Falls” card, “Level B Unknown Status” dictates that a category 2 fire department like Ann Arbor’s would be sent to the scene.

Current Fire Dispatch

The change in fire dispatch that started Dec. 1, 2009 results in a system that looks roughly like this:

[Call]

[911 center]
[fire-protection-related or medical-related]

[HVA]
[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances and/or firetrucks]
[as fire protection information dictates] → [send firetrucks]

City of Ann Arbor firetrucks now roll when HVA tells them to. One efficiency that’s achieved is the elimination of a possible circularity – a call sent first from 911 to HVA, then back to 911 for fire dispatch. At the June 15, 2009 city council meeting, an additional benefit cited for HVA fire dispatch was a reduction in unnecessary responses made by the fire department to medical calls.

As comparative data becomes available – before HVA handled fire dispatch, and now – The Chronicle will follow up with a look at what differences, if any, emerge.

Huron Valley Ambulance Call Center

Heather Rossi took calls from Oakland County.

The contrast between rolling the Ann Arbor fire department or not emerged on New Year’s Eve in the following way: The Ann Arbor fire department was dispatched to the Fuller Road area – for an unconscious patient who’d possibly overdosed.

But Ann Arbor fire was not sent to the parking lot of the old Ann Arbor News building, where Ann Arbor police were already on the scene with a very cold patient who’d been drinking too much.

Drinking-related incidents, not surprisingly, accounted for many of the 78 calls received by HVA in the first 3 hours and 43 minutes of 2010 – that was the limit of The Chronicle’s stamina.

Two of those calls – one in Ann Arbor and the other in Ypsilanti – fit the following pattern:  A group of younger-sounding people, walking from one place to another, discover a stranger lying in the snow, who had been drinking too much; they stay with the person until help arrives.

HVA Fire and Ambulance Dispatch

When a 911 call is transferred to HVA, it goes to the “call-taker.” On New Year’s Eve that was Terry Pappas for all calls except those from Oakland County. Oakland County call-taking was handled by Heather Rossi.

Oakland County? HVA’s coverage area includes Washtenaw and all counties surrounding it. HVA operates as HVA in Washtenaw, Wayne, and Livingston counties. In other counties, it operates as a differently-named subsidiary, including Alliance Mobile Health in Oakland County. Depending on where the call comes from, an HVA call-taker answers the phone in a variety of ways – but when it’s a call that’s been relayed from the primary 911 dispatch, what those callers heard on New Year’s Eve was “Fire and ambulance, this is Terry.”

The call-taker uses the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to record information on location, the nature of the medical emergency and its priority. That information becomes simultaneously available to the rest of the team – handling a call is not a solo effort made by the call-taker.

The  communication to the ambulances and fire stations is handled by two additional people: the ambulance dispatcher and the fire dispatcher.

[ambulance dispatcher] ← [HVA Call-Taker] → [fire dispatcher]

Ambulance and fire dispatchers send vehicles rolling down the road based on the information that shows up on their screen, as keyed in by the call-taker.

On New Year’s Eve, the guy who was contacting the fire department for HVA was Alexander Pahany – a former firefighter himself, who is also an attorney. And dispatching ambulances that night was T.J. Hubaker – she was being assisted in that role first by Erik Youngblood, who was then relieved by Danny Blaszkiewicz.

Teamwork on New Year’s Eve

There’s an inherent teamwork built into the division of labor among the call-taker, fire dispatcher, and ambulance dispatcher. They communicate through information exchanged on screen – ongoing notes are keyed in on the status of any particular run. But team members also don’t hesitate to just talk across the room.

Huron Valley Ambulance Call Center

T.J. Hubaker dispatched ambulances on New Year's Eve.

One of those occasions of across-the-room talking came when Pappas set up the CAD system to roll over to a new set of “run numbers” for the new year. At midnight, the index was to be reset to all zeros, but the system began assigning the new numbers 7 minutes early.

Pappas called on her shiftmates to help track down the last run numbers before the premature switch, so that she could rectify the issue. And just before midnight, the numbers had been re-reset.

Pappas and her shift have a chemistry that is readily apparent as they spell each other on breaks, and resolve the inevitable unclarities of communication. It was the 8th New Year’s Eve in a row Pappas had worked with Hubaker. For Pappas it was her 13th New Year’s Eve shift for HVA.

In addition to the two call-takers and three dispatchers, also on duty on New Year’s Eve was the HVA 211 call-taker, Chrissy Wirts. The 211 line is for human services referrals.

Back to Fire Dispatch

It’s not just the medical calls that HVA dispatches for the city of Ann Arbor fire department (along with almost a dozen other area fire departments). When there’s a structure fire, it’s now HVA that dispatches Ann Arbor’s firetrucks to the scene.

Huron Valley Ambulance Call Center

Alexander Pahany was on fire dispatch duty.

HVA’s fire dispatcher on New Year’s Eve, Alexander Pahany, is a former firefighter, as is Pappas. And Danny Blaszkiewicz, who was Hubaker’s “wingman” on ambulance dispatch, is currently a firefighter.

But fire dispatch does not depend on the gut instinct of dispatchers who are cross-trained as firefighters. Similar to the EMD protocol card book for medical emergencies, there’s a card book for structure fires as well.

The CAD system is also programmed with several thousand different “cards” that were built to handle all the various scenarios for kinds of fires, their priorities, and the specific vehicles available at each of the six stations in Ann Arbor.

Call center training at HVA takes 1-2 years. And that comes on top of paramedic training, which itself can take 1-2 years. All of the necessary training courses can be completed through HVA.

HVA also offers a free HVA Citizens Academy. The next 8-week program will be held on Wednesdays from 6-9 p.m. starting Feb. 3, 2010 through March 24, 2010. Registration information is available from Jason Trojan, HVA Community Relations Coordinator: jtrojan[at]hva.org.

 

Huron Valley Ambulance Call Center

Erik Youngblood handled some cabling issues. He was providing support for ambulance dispatch until Blaszkiewicz could arrive.


Dec 29, 2009

Deal reached to avoid firefighter layoffs, Ann Arbor officials say

Also: Assistant Chief Greg Hollingsworth announces retirement

The Ann Arbor Fire Department might be spared from cuts for the next six months under a new deal reached between the firefighters union and city leaders.

City officials say a tentative agreement is in place that could postpone layoffs scheduled to take effect next week. The agreement covers the one-year period from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010.

firefighters.jpg

Several members of the firefighters union showed up at the Dec. 21 Ann Arbor City Council meeting to protest firefighter layoffs.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Union officials told their members Monday that the contract language is being finalized and will be released within the next week. The details remain confidential.

A 14-day period will begin once the final language is released so union members can review the tentative agreement prior to a ratification vote.

City Administrator Roger Fraser confirmed this morning the city is postponing the potential layoffs pending Local 693's ratification vote on the tentative collective bargaining agreement. He indicated he was happy with the agreement.

"We wouldn't have a tentative agreement if we didn't think we got as much as we could out of it," he said.

Fraser announced plans earlier this month to move up the previously scheduled elimination of 14 firefighter positions. Laying them off in early January instead of late June could save about $400,000, which was one part of Fraser's solution to close a $3.3 million mid-year budget deficit.

Matt Schroeder, president of Local 693, said he's not at liberty to talk specifics. But he said the concessions being made by the firefighters union amount to more than the $400,000 mid-year savings Fraser targeted with the layoffs.

"It's a lot more than $400,000, and ultimately we'll see what our body says when it comes up for ratification," he said. "We felt that we owe it to the citizens to at least give this a try because we believe we're already minimally staffed. I don't know that it can make it past ratification but we're going to try. It's an opportunity to allow the fire department to move forward for six months."

Mayor John Hieftje recently issued a challenge to all the city's labor unions, asking them to take a voluntary 3 percent pay cut to help the city balance its budget. Schroeder declined to give a specific percentage but said the firefighters will have answered the mayor's call if the tentative agreement is approved.

"Our local is being a leader in this whole proposition, and I would look to administration to follow our lead with some of the givebacks because I think that they need to be looking at themselves," Schroeder said. "We'll be encouraged by other people in administration that follow our lead."

The firefighters union offered to make major concessions two weeks ago, including a 6 percent reduction in wages and benefits. But no deal was reached at that time because the union wanted a guarantee of no layoffs.

One of the 14 positions to be cut was vacant, so 13 firefighters received layoff notices this month. They were to be terminated effective Jan. 4.

The fire department currently operates on a budget of about $14 million a year, the bulk of which goes to wages and benefits for firefighters. Right now, the department is budgeted for 94 full-time employees, which includes two management assistants and the chief. In 2001-02, the department had 113.5 full-time equivalent employees.

The last contract for Local 693, which expired June 30, contained a no-layoff clause that has protected the fire department for the last five years. But city leaders say they now have little choice but to dig into public safety as they confront a multimillion-dollar budget deficit heading into next year.

If the tentative contract is ratified, Fraser said he anticipates negotiations with the firefighters union will resume in the spring to talk about what happens after June. He already has asked the department to come up with a plan to trim an additional $1 million from its budget.

Craig_Ferris.jpg

Craig Ferris, a lieutenant who has been with the fire department for 16 years, spoke out at the Dec. 21 City Council meeting. He believes the department already has been reduced to minimum levels, and further cuts pose a safety risk.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

As labor negotiations continue, city officials are in the final stages of sorting through five candidates for the fire chief position, and two of those candidates apparently are being invited back for second interviews. Chief Samuel Hopkins retired in September, leaving the city looking for a new leader to steer the department through a stormy period of financial uncertainty.

The candidates interviewed so far include Marty DeLoach, who was fired from his job as Brighton's fire chief this year; Bernie Becker, who left his job as fire chief in Clearcreek Township, Ohio, amid a firestorm of allegations that later proved to be false; Harvy Holland, a battalion chief in Pontiac; Jeffrey Hawkins, fire chief in Pontiac; and Joe Dziuban, who retired in 2007 as Saginaw's fire chief. Sources say Becker and Dziuban are the two finalists being interviewed.

City records show the fire chief was budgeted to earn a salary of about $117,000 this year, while two assistant chiefs were to make about $85,000 and $86,000. With benefits, the chief's total compensation comes to $169,424, while that for the two assistant chiefs each come close to $130,000.

Assistant Fire Chief Greg Hollingsworth, the fire department's acting chief for the past few months, has submitted his paperwork to retire effective in February.

"I've been with the department for 27 years, and with the new fire chief coming on board, I just thought it was time to make room," he said. "I've been thinking about retiring for a year or so and I just thought it was timely with them trying to cut employees. Maybe it'll make a difference. Maybe it'll save one layoff."

Before he leaves, Hollingsworth has been asked to come up with alternate plans for restructuring the fire department if it has 14 fewer firefighters. He said that's a difficult task, and he hopes the cutbacks don't have to be implemented because it would involve taking one of the department's trucks out of service.

The fire department currently has two trucks downtown and one at each of its four substations. Hollingsworth said the leading idea is to take one truck out of the downtown station, but that leaves a heavy burden on the one crew that would remain there. The alternate option of taking a truck out of one of the substations and closing that substation also isn't ideal, he said, because it would mean longer runs to whichever district becomes vacant.

"Everybody deserves timely responses when they have an emergency so it's hard to decide," he said. "I would like to keep all the fire stations open."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Dec 20, 2009

Download: L-693_Regents_presentation.pdf

Dec 20, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters union claims station closures possible after failed deal

122009_firefighters2.jpg

From left: driver Kathy Summersgill, Lt. Chris Buscemi, and Lt. Bob Ruppel stand next to Engine 4 at Station 4. Union officials claims the city is considering closing Stations 3 and 4, in addition to laying off 14 firefighters. The three firefighters pictured have seniority in the department and will be spared in the job cuts.

Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor officials and firefighters union representatives say they're at an impasse in negotiations - less than a week after it appeared the two sides had reached a tentative agreement to save the city a significant sum of money.

According to sources close to the discussions, the union offered to make major concessions, including a 6 percent reduction in wages and benefits. But with no guarantee of avoiding layoffs and other differences unresolved, talks have stalled.

Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters union, said he's not at liberty to say what has been discussed, but it's unfortunate the city is moving forward with eliminating 14 firefighter positions from the payroll effective Jan. 4.

"We made a good faith gesture to the city and offered them a substantial cost savings to get them through the July period and thought, in the meantime, we could work hard to try to overcome some of our differences," Schroeder said. "The city was unwilling to budge on those issues and keep us on a level playing field, so it appears as though they're going to proceed with layoffs and station closures. My understanding is that Stations 3 and 4 will be closing."

City Administrator Roger Fraser declined to speculate on which, if any, stations could close under plans under way to reorganize the fire department with fewer firefighters. He also declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations.

"We don't talk away from the table," Fraser said. "We've had discussions and there's been some promising portions of that discussion, but at the moment, apparently they're not happy with where we are."

Ann Arbor currently has five fire stations after closing Station 2 about seven years ago. Station 3 is located at 2130 Jackson Ave. and Station 4 is at 2415 Huron Parkway.

The other three stations are downtown, near the University of Michigan's North Campus, and near Briarwood Mall.

122009_firefighters.jpg

The hats of three firefighters who face layoffs sit on a truck at Station 4 in Ann Arbor. Union officials claims the city is considering closing Stations 3 and 4, in addition to laying off 14 firefighters.

Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com

Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, declined to speculate on the possibility of stations closing other than to say the fire department's acting chief, Greg Hollingsworth, is working on different scenarios.

"The acting chief has been working on a couple of proposals to restructure if we do have the layoffs," Jones said. "One of those proposals does indicate we would have to close a station and another one is to do it without closing a station."

Jones criticized the union for trying to "start a firestorm of speculation."

"I believe that they're at the table and the negotiations should be taking place at the table," he said. "It is not the time to play games in the press - it's time to sit down and knuckle down and see what we can do to avoid layoffs."

Schroeder sent an e-mail to City Council members on Thursday, expressing disappointment that the city is going through with cuts and urging them to ask tough questions of the city's administration. He said there has been no impact study done and the union has been kept in the dark about plans to reorganize.

Union representatives have reached out to the University of Michigan's Board of Regents to tell of their plight, but say they have not heard back. They fear the cuts the city is proposing could impact the ability to respond to calls on U-M's campus.

That has resurrected a longstanding debate over whether the university - which occupies a significant chunk of land in Ann Arbor but pays no city taxes - should contribute to the cost of providing city services such as fire protection.

"We've been making a case out of that ever since I've been here and before that," said Fraser, who was hired as Ann Arbor's city administrator in April 2002.

Fraser said the state's Fire Protection Fund is supposed to allocate money to help municipalities like Ann Arbor pay for fire services using a formula based on the percentage of tax-exempt property in the city. Ann Arbor, like many communities that are home to public institutions, has not received the amount the formula calls for.

According to Fraser's calculation, the city should be receiving between $1.8 million and $2 million a year. But he says it hardly has reached half that amount and has been as low as $300,000.

According to Fraser, the university's position has been that its mission is education and the city doesn't ask public schools to pay for city services, so it shouldn't ask the university, either.

Jim Kosteva, U-M's director of community relations, said the university has heard from the firefighters union and is sympathetic. But he said a special request for funding would have to come directly from the city's administration and there have been no such discussions in the last year.

In the past, Kosteva said, the university has responded to special requests from the city. He cited a gift of $400,000 the university made several years ago to purchase a new fire truck. He also noted that the university - for decades now - has provided the city fire station near U-M's North Campus rent-free and utility-free.

"Sufficient and adequate fire protection is just as much an interest for us at it is for every citizen and business operator in the community," Kosteva said. "If there was a point in time reached within their budgetary constraints that there was some measure of jeopardy regarding the ability to provide some of those basic municipal services ... we would rely upon the city's administration to communicate that not only to the university but to the citizens at large."

City officials say they expect to realize some operating efficiencies and potential cost savings in the months ahead now that fire dispatch operations have been moved to Huron Valley Ambulance. The intent is to better screen calls through HVA and reduce unnecessary runs by city's fire trucks.

Ann Arbor's fire department handled 5,981 dispatched calls last year, 250 of which were fire-related. The bulk of the rest were emergency medical calls - not all of which needed to be responded to by the city's fire department, city officials said.

Craig Ferris, a lieutenant who has been with the department for 16 years, recently authored a report that discusses the role of the fire department in Ann Arbor. Ferris said he feels city leaders have tried to trivialize what the department does.

"It's a repeat of 2002. It's the playbook they followed back then," he said. "It's go on the offensive, attack the fire department, discount what we do, tell everybody everything is going to be OK and there'll be a minimal, unnoticeable reduction in service. But in reality - like you heard Mr. Fraser say - he's OK if we're just a 'defensive' fire department. And people to need realize what that term means.

"That means we're not going to come inside your house and put out your fire," Ferris said. "We're going to stand around the outside and make sure your fire doesn't extend to your neighbor's house. And I don't think people in the city of Ann Arbor are willing to put up with that."

Schroeder said he wants city officials and the firefighters union to resolve their differences and bargain in good faith.

"The city appears not to be willing to do that," he said. "They want us to give a lot and they're unwilling to come through with no-layoff guarantees for us, which is obviously what we're after because we believe that the way we're currently staffed it's important for us to maintain that minimal amount."

The fire department currently operates on a budget of about $14 million a year, the bulk of which goes to wages and benefits. Right now the department has 94 full-time employees (soon to be 80), which includes two management assistants and the chief. In 2001-02, the department had 113.5 full-time equivalent employees.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.

 

More Info:

AnnArbor.com recently used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the current contract between the city and the Local 693 firefighters union. Here it is. While the contract expired June 30, the city has in the past worked under the conditions of an expired contract until a new contract is negotiated.

AnnArbor.com also requested under FOIA a log showing a two-week sample of calls handled by the fire department. According to city officials, the city does not keep records of the number of trucks that respond to each incident, or else that information would be included here as well.


Dec 10, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters officially notified of layoffs, more cuts already proposed to police and fire budgets

Pink slips have been sent out to 13 Ann Arbor firefighters who will lose their jobs effective Jan. 4, City Administrator Roger Fraser said today.

Another vacant firefighter position will go unfilled in an effort to save about $400,000 between now and June by having 14 fewer on the payroll.

Fraser said it wasn't an easy choice, but it was one that had to be made.

Retreat1.jpg

City Administrator Roger Fraser discussed the city's growing budget problems at a retreat this past Saturday with the City Council. Fourteen positions from the fire department are being cut from the budget and more cuts are on the way.

Ryan J. Stanton | Ann Arbor.com

"The whole business of having to make reductions in the organization is as uncomfortable as can be," he said. "And any time it impacts anybody, it makes you lose sleep at night - I don't know how else to say it."

More than $3 million in mid-year cuts are being implemented by Fraser. The city also will save $811,475 by not filling several vacancies in the police department. When the city offered buyouts to officers this year, it expected 18 to go, but 24 took the offer.

Cuts to public safety may not stop there. Fraser announced today he has directed the police department to come up with options for trimming an additional $2 million from its budget by the next fiscal year beginning in July. The fire department also must come up with a plan for trimming another $1 million.

For the 2011-12 fiscal year, Fraser said both departments are being asked to dig further and cut the same amounts from their budgets.

"By the time you add all that up, you're talking about some significant reductions," Fraser said.

He noted the city has been working toward increasing efficiencies for the last seven years, and now mostly jobs and important services are on the chopping block.

Public safety currently represents about 48 percent of the city's $83.2 million general fund budget. Fraser said cuts to the police and fire departments aren't ideal, but in the absence of additional revenue, they're unavoidable. The city must trim its budget by 30 percent over three years to address falling property tax revenues and declines in state revenue sharing.

Mayor John Hieftje agreed it may be hard to avoid more cuts to public safety in the months ahead.

"As we look at the budget, it's pretty much near impossible to make cuts without affecting safety services that are half of the budget," he said. "You can't take 30 percent out of half of your budget."

Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, said it'll be tough to avoid jeopardizing safety services with cuts that deep.

"Realistically, that'll be impossible because that's just bodies," he said. "There's nothing else left to cut. There's no fat in either of those departments and it's just service people and programs, so I'm going to go through the exercise of creating the reduction match and hopefully I don't have to go through with that."

Jones said he'll be working on the police department's plan for proposed cuts. The city is in the process of considering five candidates for the vacant fire chief position to replace former Chief Samuel Hopkins, who retired in September. Jones said the new chief would start in January and work on the fire department's reduction plan for the coming fiscal year.

Thumbnail image for Retreat2.jpg

Matt Schroeder, left, president of the city firefighters union, and Shane Doyon, one of 14 firefighters on the chopping block, listen to Roger Fraser talk about the need to trim the city's budget at the Saturday retreat.

"I'm hoping that we don't wind up with any more cuts in either service, but I understand that Ann Arbor is like every other city in this state right now and there's revenue problems," Jones said. "I'll be trying to come up with any idea I can come up with to avoid this ... because we're as thin and lean as we can get, and any further reductions on either side might become a safety concern for all of us."

Fraser said he plans to hold a special working session sometime in January with the City Council to further discuss the city's budget problems. He said an executive report based on discussions at Saturday's budget retreat should be finished sometime next week and will detail the options on the table.

City officials have been mainly discussing ways to cut expenses in light of falling revenues, but not much talk has centered on increasing revenues. Fraser acknowledges some hesitancy about asking voters to approve more taxes, but says a city income tax and a Headlee Amendment override are still on the table.

The city's projections show a city income tax - at the bare minimum - could increase city revenues by $7.6 million or more, even after factoring in a decrease in property taxes that would go in tandem with the tax. City officials say that would increase revenues while shifting some of the city's tax burden off of residents onto people who commute to Ann Arbor for work.

The Headlee override is another option that might be less cumbersome for the city but would mean a tax hike for residents. The city's charter gives the City Council authority to levy up to 7.5 mills for operations, but a combination of two state laws - Headlee and Proposal A - effectively reduces that cap each year. A Headlee override, if approved by voters, would suspend state law and reset the bar to 7.5 mills. That could raise $6.5 million or more in new revenues.

Fraser said Ann Arbor residents need to take a close look at what's happening to city services and decide what they value and how much they're willing to pay.

"Citizens are not willing to pay more taxes unless they're feeling some discomfort over the way things are," he said.

City officials continue to work toward pay cuts and reductions in spending for employee benefits. The mayor proposed a 3 percent pay cut for all city employees that is being taken to the table in negotiations with the city's unions.

Fraser, who has not seen an increase in his salary since 2005, said even he and his administrators aren't exempt from pay cut considerations.

"I'm not personally anxious to do that, but if that's what we have to do, that's what we have to do," he said. "There are none of us that are exempt."

Fraser indicated at last Saturday's city budget retreat that the city is working to modify the costs of employee health care. An analysis of city employee compensation shows, for example, that the average firefighter in Ann Arbor receives more than $100,000 a year in pay and benefits. As one example, a firefighter making $63,624 this year in salary also is provided $42,468 worth of benefits and other compensation.

"We believe there are some things we need to do to fine-tune our costs on our benefit programs," Fraser said. "We recognize that, to a degree, we are above the market in terms of the benefits that we pay and the cost of those benefits, but I doubt it's as extreme as some folks in the community suggest. We're not that far out of whack."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Dec 07, 2009

Ann Arbor officials say firefighters' unwillingness to negotiate partly to blame for layoffs

Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser says the decision to lay off 14 firefighters isn't easy, but places some blame on a lack of cooperation from the firefighters union at the bargaining table.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations with Local 693, Fraser's frustration was apparent at Saturday's City Council retreat. Raising his voice several times, Fraser spoke bluntly and criticized the union's leadership for refusing to realize the need for change in light of the current financial crisis facing the city.

Fraser_retreat.jpg

City Administrator Roger Fraser discusses the city's budget problems and the plan to lay off 14 firefighters at Saturday's City Council retreat.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Fraser said there's no way the city can cut its budget by 30 percent over three years without making adjustments to police and fire services. Those services account for half the city's budget.

Responding to hesitation from some council members about his plan to immediately lay off 14 firefighters, Fraser told them they're naive if they think they can drive change at the bargaining table while putting off tough decisions about public safety.

"I'm trying to be plain with you about the consequences," Fraser said. "If you're going to continue to say let's postpone this cut and see if we can't figure out something, then you've lent credence to (the firefighters' belief) that you will bail them out."

Mayor John Hieftje agreed it would be nice to have cooperation from the firefighters union, which for months has refused to make any concessions in wages and benefits to avoid layoffs.

"The union, as I understand it, wasn't willing to give up any wages to save jobs," Hieftje said. "That conversation has been had with the fire department and union, and the answer wasn't positive."

Hieftje noted Washtenaw County leaders were able to get county labor unions to reopen contracts this year and give up promised raises that saved the county nearly $7 million and avoided mass layoffs. He said he wishes the city's unions would agree to across-the-board wage cuts to avoid mass cuts to city services.

Firefighters union president Matt Schroeder said the fire department would prefer - instead of layoffs - to go the route of buyouts, like those offered to the police department earlier this year. But he said that hasn't been on the table in negotiations.

Schroeder said the city hasn't been open to any of the union's other ideas for avoiding layoffs. For instance, he said, firefighters are licensed as emergency medical technicians and could generate revenue by billing for health transportation services.

"We've really done our homework and attempted to come up with some ways to solve the problem with the city, but they're not open to any of those ideas that we've proposed," Schroeder said. "We've been met with some real resistance."

Ann Arbor officials are working to confront a $3.3 million deficit in the current fiscal year and now must cut another $5.4 million from next year's budget over and above what was previously planned. City leaders will spend the next several months identifying which services to maintain going into the next fiscal year.

Nearly $400,000 in the mid-year cuts proposed by Fraser will come from having 14 fewer firefighters on the payroll through June. Fraser is planning to send out pink slips this week, officially giving 30-day notice to those who will lose their jobs.

 

102009_Ann_Arbor_Fire2.jpg

A total of 14 jobs are on the chopping block at the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

 

Fraser said it's his intent to work over the next 30 days to find an alternative to the layoffs. But in the absence of any major breakthroughs, the 14 jobs will go, he said.

Several members of the firefighters union sat quietly on the sidelines Saturday as Fraser spoke. Bryce McAllister, one of the 14 firefighters whose jobs are on the line, said he left another department to come work for Ann Arbor about four years ago because he thought it would be a more stable job.

Now he's worried about how he'll provide for his wife and two children after January. But he's also concerned for the community.

"Hopefully between the city and the union we'll get something worked out," McAllister said. "It's not about my job or the 13 other guys who would get laid off. It's about the fire department providing a service to the citizens."

Schroeder brought a 21-page report to Saturday's meeting, outlining the union's analysis on the potential impact of further staff reductions in the fire department.

In the late 1990s, the fire department had 115 firefighters, six stations, four staffed engines, three ladders and a rescue squad. By 2002, that declined to 92 firefighters, five stations, four staffed engines (one combined rescue) and two ladders.

The elimination of 14 more firefighters could mean further reductions in the number of trucks and stations, according to the union.

The union's report compares Ann Arbor's fire department to other fire departments in Big 10 college towns, showing fire services in Ann Arbor are already lacking.

The National Fire Protection Agency recommends a rate of one firefighter per 1,000 people. Ann Arbor currently has 0.8 firefighters per 1,000 people, and that would drop to 0.68 with 14 fewer on the job.

According to the union's analysis, Ann Arbor already ranks the lowest of 10 fire departments in the report in terms of staffing levels. The national average is 1.74 firefighters per 1,000 people.

Retreat2.jpg

Matt Schroeder, left, president of the city firefighters union, and Shane Doyon, one of 14 firefighters on the chopping block, listen to Roger Fraser talk about the need to trim the city's budget.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Minus another fire station, Ann Arbor also would be almost five times below the national average in the number of stations per population - and lower than all other cities compared in the report. Ann Arbor's current number of fire engines per population also is the lowest in the union's report.

Schroeder said national standards suggest a fire department should be able to respond to a fire within four minutes and have a full alarm assignment within eight minutes. He said the department already is below that benchmark, and the loss of 14 firefighters will put Ann Arbor residents at further risk.

Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's safety services administrator, said city officials are working on a plan for how to manage fire services with 14 fewer firefighters.

"The reality is - with layoffs - there would be a definite change in how we do fire service delivery in our community," he said. "But the response times shouldn't change that drastically."

Fraser said the leading plan is to take one truck company out of service, which would mean one less vehicle in a fleet of many when responding to a fire. He said that could mean more property damage during fires, but it wouldn't put firefighters at risk.

The fire department handled 5,981 dispatched calls last year, 250 of which were fire-related. The bulk of the rest were emergency medical calls, city records show.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Dec 07, 2009

Ann Arbor City Budget: Cuts Begin Now

"There's no way ... without some steel in your backbones."
city administrator Roger Fraser with firefighters in the background

Ann Arbor city administrator Roger Fraser talks with city councilmembers about upcoming budget decisions. That possibility includes layoff notices to 14 firefighters to be sent as soon as the week of Dec. 7. Members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 stand in the background. (Photos by the writer.)

Unless he receives other direction from the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 7 meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser told councilmembers at their Saturday budget retreat that he’ll begin implementing a plan to trim around $3 million out of the current fiscal year budget.

The moves are necessary to balance the FY 2010 budget, which ends June 30, 2010.

Some of that trimming is a matter of accounting for one-time savings – $500,000 had been budgeted for the Pfizer tax refund, but was settled last year so won’t be on the books for FY 2010. Other trimming is a matter of accepting current situations and committing to them going forward, for recurring savings – for example, vacancies from excess reductions of police through the early-out retirement incentive would not be filled.

But some of the trimming would entail cutting positions currently filled – 14 firefighter positions, which account for around $400,000 of the $3 million to be saved in FY 2010. The move to eliminate firefighter jobs had been part of the FY 2011 plan, but would be implemented six months earlier – now.

For FY 2011, the picture gets even worse, with the city facing a $5.4 million shortfall. And looking ahead one year after that, city council will be faced with constructing a budget for FY 2012 that is 30% smaller than the one they approved for FY 2009.

Background on the Budget Retreat

The Ann Arbor city council holds a budget retreat each year to provide some basic direction to the city administrator on the budget, which is presented to the council in the spring. The council then has an opportunity to amend and adopt that budget for a fiscal year that begins in July. If the council takes no action on the administrator’s budget, then – per the city charter – the administrator’s budget becomes the adopted budget.

Goal of the Retreat: Dialog

Last year, the council’s budget retreat was not held until January. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor City Council Sets Priorities"] At a budget and labor committee meeting this fall, councilmembers on that committee made it a priority to make sure the budget retreat was held earlier than last year, when scheduling problems had pushed the event into January.

Like last year, the retreat was held at the city’s Wheeler Service Center on Stone School Road. All city councilmembers attended, except for Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who serves on the council’s budget and labor committee, sketched out the goals for this year’s retreat. It would be short on review of basic background material, he said, so there would be more time to engage in a dialog amongst themselves.

The dialog, it turned out, could be fairly characterized as a candid, at times blunt conversation among councilmembers and staff. Rapundalo set part of the tone for bluntness in his introductory comments, when he described how the time of making piecemeal reductions had petered out and that they were now faced with the need to “amputate part of the institution.”

And later during the retreat, when councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed concerns about eliminating firefighter positions, Fraser admonished the council that there was no way to get to the 30% reduction they’d need by FY 2012 “without some steel in your backbones.”

Review of Basic Background

The background that formed the basis of the discussion at the budget retreat had been foreshadowed at the council’s May 11, 2009 working session on the FY 2010 budget, which they approved later that month. At the working session, the specter of possible additional mid-fiscal-year cuts to the FY 2010 budget was raised. At the time it was thought that those mid-year cuts could likely be driven by a possible dramatic drop to state revenue sharing monies. [State revenue sharing is the way the state allocates a portion of the state sales tax to municipalities across the state. Chronicle coverage: "City Budget: Some Cuts Sooner Than 2011?"]

The sales tax revenue shared by the state did drop, starting in October 2009. By decision of the state legislature, the statutory revenue sharing to Ann Arbor was cut by about $850,000. And a decrease in sales tax revenues meant a $310,000 drop in constitutional revenue sharing. Altogether, that results in $1.16 million less for Ann Arbor’s FY 2010 budget. [Chronicle coverage: "State budget update"]

Four months ago, at the Aug. 6, 2009 city council meeting – based on a range of estimates for the drop in state shared revenue, plus other projected revenue declines – the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, had already sketched out a FY 2010 budget shortfall. The FY 2010 gap forecast in August amounted to around $3.3 million and would necessitate some mid-year cuts. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor's CFO gives bleak financial report"]

Current Forecasts for FY 2010 and FY 2011

The specific up-to-date forecast provided by Crawford for the current budget year, as well as next year, is as follows [numbers inside parentheses are negative]:

                       FY 2010            FY 2011
                      (Millions)        (Millions)
November 2009
State shared revenue    (1.4)             (1.2)
Investment income       (0.9)             (0.9)
Traffic citations       (0.9)             (0.6)
and caseload
New development         (0.2)             (0.2)
review fees
Net revenues from       (0.2)             (0.1)
new parking meters
Property taxes           0.3                -
Bond user fees            -               (0.7)
Unresolved lease          -               (1.7)
with DDA 

Forecast worse than     (3.3)             (5.4)
planned
% of expenditures        -4%               -8%
FTE equivalent          (39)               (64)

-

The one “bright” spot in the forecast was that property taxes were actually $0.3 million more than originally budgeted.

A reduction in investment income is a function of the near zero interest rates now available.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) got clarification from the chief of police, Barnett Jones, that the decrease in traffic citations was due to 24 fewer officers writing tickets – as a part of the FY 2010 budget, an early-out retirement incentive was offered. Officers write an average of 15 tickets per month, Jones said. He would not, he cautioned, tell remaining officers to write more tickets to make up for it.

Roger Fraser City of Ann Arbor

Roger Fraser, Ann Arbor's city administrator, shows councilmembers the graph reflecting reductions in city staff positions that have been implemented since 2001.

The unresolved lease with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) in FY 2011 for $1.7 million reflects the fact that no renegotiation of the current parking agreement with the DDA has been attempted.

Under the current agreement with the city to manage the parking system, the DDA is obligated to pay the city $1 million a year for 10 years, starting in 2005, with the city’s option to request a payment of $2 million in any given year – as long as the total amount over 10 years does not exceed $10 million. For the first five years of the contract, the city has requested $2 million, which means that starting in FY 2011, the DDA has no obligation under that contract to pay the city anything more. [Additional background: "DDA Invites City to Discuss Parking Fines"]

Eliminating the DDA was mentioned among possible ideas listed out in the retreat packet, in the spirit of what Fraser described as a “far-reaching attempt to provoke your thinking.”

Revenues: City Income Tax?

On a couple of occasions, Christoper Taylor (Ward 3) pointed out that the entire discussion had focused on the expense side of the equation, with no mention of the revenue side. Fraser clarified that this reflected his belief that there was little enthusiasm on council for exploring the idea of a city income tax. Fraser said, however, that he believed the council owed it to voters to ask them the question before they made the FY 2011 cuts.

The two options that Fraser said should be examined were (i) a Headlee override, which would eliminate the rollback of property millage rates mandated by the Headlee Amendment, and (ii) a city income tax. Either option would require voter approval. One upside to the Headlee override, Fraser pointed out, was that the city would be able to act immediately on the additional revenue. The downside: It would raise only an additional $6.5 million, when the city ultimately faced an $8-9 million problem.

As for the city income tax, it would take longer for the city to be able to act on any additional revenues – there’d be no revenues from that until June 2012, and initial compliance would likely be only in the 70% range, compared to the 90% or better rate that could eventually be achieved.

In terms of estimating the likelihood that a city income tax would pass, Fraser suggested that the city should invest in a study of voter attitudes, much like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had undertaken to gauge voter receptivity to a possible countywide transportation millage. [Results of the AATA study are to be presented at a special meeting of the AATA board on Tuesday, Dec. 8.] Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) stressed that per the city charter, the city income tax could not be an “add-on” as in some other cities. The Ann Arbor city charter specifies that the city may levy a general operating millage or a city income tax, but not both.

CFO Tom Crawford emphasized that the idea of a city income tax was more significant than a change in revenue levels. It would completely restructure the way the city is financed. Prompted by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) to clarify, Crawford said that in addition to new kinds of staff – auditors, collectors, form processors – there would be impacts to basic policy. One of the financial policies that would need to change if the city were financed through an income tax, said Crawford, was that reserve fund levels would need to be kept about twice as high as they are under a property tax funding mechanism. That’s because the precision of forecasting revenue levels is not as great with an income tax as with a property tax.

Fraser and Crawford also pointed out that an income tax did not represent a revenue panacea, with the extra amount of money compared to a property tax falling in the range of $8-10 million. [Chronicle coverage of the city income tax study released last summer: "Ann Arbor City Income Tax Study"]

Fraser also noted that an income tax meant there would be a different set of stakeholders in the city government who might have questions about how their tax money was being spent – the set of property owners overlaps with, but is a separate set of people from, city income taxpayers.

Current Revenue Projections with a Property Tax

Projections for future revenues for budgeting purposes assumes the city will continue to be funded through property taxes, not through an income tax.

Ann Arbor general fund revenue projections

Ann Arbor general fund revenue projections. The optimistic scenario in blue puts revenues at $81.6 million in 2015 after a peak of $84.2 in 2008. The red, worst case forecast puts revenues at $70.2 million in 2015.

Fraser stressed that the revenue projections being used by the city for future budgets do not change the need to cut over the next five years.

Even under that most optimistic scenario, in 2015 revenues would only be $81.6 million, after an $84.2 million peak in 2008.

The worst case projection – one that assumes the complete collapse of the auto industry – would put the 2015 revenues at $70.1 million.

Rethinking Services

Service area administrators gave the council a preliminary rundown of the keys issues facing the city, from the city staff perspective. Those issues ranged from infrastructure issues like Argo Dam and the Stadium Boulevard bridges to the reorganization of the Housing Commission and the impact of the overall economic downturn on the planning department.

The council then divided into three smaller groups in separate rooms, and three groups of staff rotated through each room for a more detailed discussion. Staff group I: Sue McCormick, public services area administrator. Staff group II: Jayne Miller, community services area administrator and Barnett Jones, safety services area administrator; Staff group III: Roger Fraser, city administrator; Tom Crawford, chief financial officer; and Stephen Postema, city attorney.

The Chronicle observed the council group consisting of Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Margie Teall (Ward 4). That group anticipated the discussion that was to happen in the afternoon, and focused on the list of ideas staff had put together for rethinking the basic kind of services that the city should provide and the way that the city should provide them.

Below is some annotation of the list of ideas that was meant to spur the council to start thinking in a fundamentally different way about city services. Fraser stressed that the items on the list were not recommendations, but rather a way for staff to get feedback on which ideas were worth pursuing.

Of the ideas, three seemed to receive almost no traction: outsourcing legal services, contracting with the county for police and emergency services, and the elimination of the DDA. While there seemed to be no great enthusiasm for any of the ideas, councilmembers were in general receptive to receiving additional, specific information.

In annotating the list, we combine the small group interaction we observed with the afternoon discussion of the list by the whole council.

Require leaves to be bagged by residents

Leaf collection and snow removal were identified by councilmembers as two areas generating a large volume of constituent complaints. Snow removal generated some animated discussion between Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and public services administrator Sue McCormick. It emerged as a result of a discussion of Act 51 (gas tax) money.

Sue McCormick and Jayne Miller

Sue McCormick (left), public services area administrator, and Jayne Miller (right), community services administrator.

McCormick explained that leaf collection was previously paid for out of Act 51 (gas tax) money, but staff recognized that it was more appropriately paid out of the solid waste fund. Act 51 pays for street sweeping, snow removal, crack sealing, and traffic studies, McCormick said. Rapundalo asked if there was any flexibility for allocating more of the money for snow removal – perhaps eliminating the 5% earmark of Act 51 money for non-motorized transportation infrastructure.

Rapundalo, citing his northern Ontario roots, described snow removal in Ann Arbor as “abysmal.” McCormick countered with her own bio, growing up in the Upper Peninsula, and explained that small pickup trucks were not used to plow snow on city streets, because they would be subjected to mechanical stress they’re not designed for. She suggested that in approaching field operations staff, who manage snow removal, a useful approach for Rapundalo would be to query: “Why do I observe this?”

The leaf collection program has residents rake leaves into the road shortly before scheduled collection via front-end loaders and dump trucks. Because of the unpredictability of the leaf drop in any year, McCormick said, “I think we perform it poorly. We cannot do it well.” She put the annual cost of the program at around $400,000. That number, however, did not reflect the actual cost of the program, because the street sweeping associated with it sometimes was delayed until the following year – which meant that the street sweeping was not associated with leaf collection from an accounting perspective.

Eliminating the leaf collection program would have consequences for the collection of compost material, a service which the city provides using a combination of paper bags and carts – elimination of the program would not translate into a savings of $400,000. Mayor John Hieftje remarked that the compost carts can hold a prodigious amount of leaves, especially if they’re compacted by standing on them.

McCormick indicated that probably in January, staff would be bringing forward a recommendation to convert the city’s composting facility to a merchant operation, similar in spirit to the city’s material recovery facility.

Stop general fund support for golf

The park advisory commission got a recent update on the progress being made to put the city’s two golf courses, Leslie and Huron Hills, on stable financial footing. [Chronicle coverage: "Parks Update: Golf, Birds, River Art"]

At Saturday’s retreat, Miller said that compared to a general fund allocated subsidy of $589,000, the golf courses had used $460,000 – so the trend was in the right direction, but the subsidy required was still substantial. Of the two courses, Leslie is showing more improvement, enhanced by receiving a liquor license from the city in 2008.

When the focus then came to rest on Huron Hills Golf Course as the less profitable of the two courses, Stephen Rapundalo lamented: “Here we go again!” It was possibly an allusion to the contentious general election Rapundalo only narrowly won against write-in challenger Ed Amonsen in 2007, when a central issue had been the question of whether the city intended to sell Huron Hills.

Miller said that closing Huron Hills for golf would not mean that it would stop losing money. Even keeping up the property at some basic level of maintenance (not as a golf course) would require a considerable ongoing expenditure, she said.

Hieftje summarized by saying, “I think we’ll have golf.”

Institute street lighting special assessment districts

As recently as 2007, the idea of a street lighting special assessment district has been proposed. On that occasion, the Ann Arbor DDA paid the city about $630,000 to delay and reduce a street light tax that would have been assessed on downtown property owners. That tax would have generated around $170,000 annually.

The idea now under consideration would generate $1.5-2 million annually from property owners citywide paying an additional tax to fund street lights. Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, said that one way to configure the special assessment district would be to provide some basic level of lighting standard, with additional levels of service funded through the assessment.

A complicating factor is that some of the street lights are owned by DTE and others are owned by the city of Ann Arbor. The possibility of buying out DTE was briefly discussed. Another challenge is that the energy efficiencies gained from street lights are not as highly valued by DTE as one might expect, because the energy savings from street lights come mostly during an off-peak load time (at night), when DTE has excess capacity anyway.

Reduce or re-purpose general fund support for AATA

The city of Ann Arbor currently levies a 2.5 mill tax – adjusted by the Headlee Amendment to a rate of just over 2 mill – which the city charter specifies for the purpose of “providing funds for operating and equipping a public transportation system for the City.” That money is allocated to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

As CFO Tom Crawford pointed out, the charter obligation is to spend the taxes collected under the transportation tax on transportation, not necessarily the AATA.

In connection with current discussions by the AATA of proposing a countywide transportation millage, the question becomes: What happens to the existing public transportation tax? One extreme would be to leave it in place and to continue allocation of that money to the AATA. The other extreme would be to eliminate the city transportation tax entirely, which would put Ann Arbor property owners’ contribution to the possible countywide transportation system on the same footing with other county residents. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Adopts Vision: Countywide Service"]

Or it’s possible to contemplate a reduction in the city’s transportation tax, with the reduced percentage remaining on the tax bill, but reallocated elsewhere in the fund. Any of those options would require a ballot question put before the voters.

Reduce solid waste millage

On this proposal, the city would get out of the business of garbage collection, but stay in the business of recycling. The city would contract with a waste hauler, which would then be paid directly by residents under some kind of franchising arrangement that would allow them to “pay as they go.” That would allow a reduction in the solid waste millage, which could be passed along to residents. Or voters could be asked to continue to pay the same percentage, but direct to other areas the part not needed to fund garbage collection.

When considering whether residents would choose to continue paying the same amount even though their service had been reduced, and then pay again separately for waste hauling, Stephen Rapundalo asked, “Why would they do that?”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) cautioned that this kind of “pay as you go” system could have the unintended consequence of encouraging the dumping of trash wherever people could find a place – something he said he’d seen as administrator of  Sumpter Township in the early 2000s.

Defer uncommitted capital improvements

Councilmembers wanted to see a list of the improvements to be deferred. In connection with discussion of the Stadium Boulevard bridge replacement, scheduled to begin construction after the 2010 University of Michigan football season, Sue McCormick was also asked to provide a list of the street reconstruction projects that would be delayed, if the bridge replacement has to be paid out of the local street reconstruction millage.

Eliminate human services funding

The roughly $1.1 million in human services funding is currently allocated to area nonprofits based on a scoring metric. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Allocates Human Services Funding"] In response to councilmember queries, it emerged that few cities fund any kind of human services. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that Ypsilanti had eliminated human services funding a decade ago.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) wondered how much good some of the smaller allocations actually did, and questioned: “Are we having an impact?” Responding to Rapundalo, Briere – who works for the nonprofit The Corner Health Center – was emphatic: “I want to tell you, you are!”

In discussions of cutting back human services funding, Mayor John Hieftje warned that it would mean the elimination of some nonprofits. He said it would be important to bring together the city, the United Way, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and other organizations to figure out a coordinated strategy for determining which ones survive.

Briere added that the role of nonprofits needs to be acknowledged: “We need to say out loud: This is not the government’s role alone. We do this in partnership with nonprofits.” On the subject of human services funding, Briere said it was impossible to call it a core service: “That’s why the amounts are so tiny.”

Look at various aspects of parks

While the council was unenthusiastic about any of the possible ways to save money in the parks system, they generally wanted staff to provide more concrete numbers on various scenarios. Information on the greenbelt millage was also requested: How much of the money is already obligated? Any change in that 30-year millage would need voter approval.

  • Close recreation facilities: The financial benefit to closing recreational facilities, community services area administrator Jayne Miller pointed out, was not anywhere near the full cost of operating the facilities. Buhr Park, for example, requires $300,000 to operate. But it also generates $250,000 in revenue. To reach significant savings, several facilities would need to be closed. In addition, said chief of police Barnett Jones, decreasing recreational opportunities for young people would lead to increased property crimes. The same rationale applies to the potential closing of neighborhood centers (Bryant and Northside) – there was no interest in closing those centers. After the neighborhood centers, the biggest money losers (setting golf aside) are Mack Pool and the Senior Center. [Chronicle coverage of the task forces working on those two facilities: "Task Force Floats Ways to Save Mack Pool" and "Seniors Weigh in on Fate of Center"]
  • Eliminate general fund support for parks system: Currently, mowing for parks is paid for out of the general fund. There is community pressure, Miller said, to treat the mowing of parks as a core service, hence it’s paid out of the general fund.
  • Discontinue maintaining some parks: The key question identified by councilmembers was: Which parks and how much would it save?
  • Sell some parks: It was noted by councilmembers that there would likely be little support on council for the sale of any parkland and that by a charter amendment passed in 2008, the question would need to be put to the voters. But the question of which parks might be candidates for sale was left on the table.
  • Rescind parks budget reduction resolution: The city resolution, passed in 2006 in conjunction with the combined parks capital improvements and parks millage, keeps parks funding on par with other general fund allocations. So whatever percentage decrease there is in the general fund budget, there would maximally be a corresponding allocation of money to the parks and recreation system. If the general fund budget drops 3%, the amount of money the city allocates to parks can’t go down by more than 3%.
  • Contract with Washtenaw County for parks services: Miller said that in the past, the reception from the county had been cool, but it might be worth trying again. She said that the Ann Arbor Public Schools had always been reluctant in the past to discuss the arrangement between the city and the schools on Mack Pool, but there’d been new-found cooperation – the same might be true of the county, she suggested.

Contract with Washtenaw County for emergency management, police services

Chief of safety services Barnett Jones said that when he worked for the Oakland County sheriff’s department, it was actually his job to put on his brown uniform with all of his regalia, and to sell safety services to the townships.

Barnett Jones

Barnett Jones, chief of police and head of safety services for the city of Ann Arbor.

He could do that, he said, because the sheriff’s department was the best provider of safety services in Oakland County. The best provider of safety services in Washtenaw County, he said, already worked for the city – the Ann Arbor police department.

Among councilmembers there was no discernible interest in exploring the possibility further.

This is an issue independent of the various regionalization efforts at cooperation among various jurisdictions that Jones ticked through as “in action”: SWAT, K-9, hostage negotiation, dispatch, and training.

Outsource city legal services

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), an attorney, said that the trend was actually in the opposite direction, not just for municipalities, but for corporations – organizations are bringing their legal work in house, because it is more cost effective and there is a greater ability to control the work. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) also expressed a lack of enthusiasm for further exploration of the idea, saying it was a “non-starter.” However, city attorney Stephen Postema offered to provide any information and analysis that might be requested. It seems unlikely that the outsourcing of more of the city’s legal work will be explored further.

The idea of outsourcing information technology services was also briefly floated, but did not achieve much traction – largely because the city’s IT department is organizing itself in concert with the county in an effort at regionalization.

Eliminate the DDA

The city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, pointed out that the TIF (tax increment financing) revenue captured by the city’s Downtown Development Authority in its defined district comes from several different taxing authorities: the schools, the Ann Arbor District Library, the county and the city of Ann Arbor. So in thinking about how much revenue might be available to the city’s general fund, the starting point would be just the amount of city taxes captured by the DDA. Factored into the equation as well, he said, was the debt currently owed by the DDA. [More background in previous Chronicle coverage: "Who's on the Committee?"] Still, Crawford concluded that there could be a net annual gain for the city’s general fund of $700,000.

Mayor John Hieftje suggested that one alternative to dismantling the DDA would be to have the city council function as the DDA board, saying that in his view the DDA existed to work in concert with the city. [It's not clear if this is possible, based on the enabling legislation that allows for creation of the DDA.]

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) declared that he was not interested in exploring the elimination of the DDA, given the strong opposition he anticipated there’d be.

[It's worth noting that another TIF-funded entity, the Local Development Finance Authority, is not a candidate for providing additional city general fund revenue, because the taxes captured by the LDFA come exclusively from the schools, not from the city.]

Change the way fire protection services are delivered

As head of safety services, Barnett Jones spoke about the impact of laying off 14 of the city’s 94 budgeted firefighter positions. He characterized the consequence as requiring a major restructuring of how fire protection service would be delivered, and it would require some outside-of-the-box thinking. He discussed “rolling brownouts,” which would close some stations on a rotating basis. Jones said that if the city went ahead with the layoff of 14 positions, he thought one or two stations would likely be closed.

The most likely scenario would be that stations in the outer reaches of the city would remain open, based on the principle that “it’s easier to come in than to go out.” Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) was keen to understand the potential impact of station closures on commitments Ann Arbor has with surrounding communities. Jones acknowledged that Station #4 was part of a functional fire service district with the city of Ypsilanti.

 Stephen Rapundalo and Christopher Taylor

Ward 3 councilmember Christopher Taylor, right, and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) discuss fire protection for the University of Michigan after hearing from safety services chief Barnett Jones on the subject.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) raised the issue of the state’s fire protection grant, which is meant to provide funding to municipalities charged with the responsibility of fire protection for state institutions located within their boundaries – like the University of Michigan. City administrator Roger Fraser said that the state’s formula for appropriate funding came out to $1.8 million, but that the state provided only $900,000.  That actually represented an increase from $300,000, which the state had paid historically.

But the extra funding, Fraser warned, had come from fines that had been established to punish severe traffic offenses, which were in the $500-$1,000 range. And there was a bill pending in the state legislature that would cut those fines, because they were deemed to be excessively harsh.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) wondered if the University of Michigan had been approached directly in light of its recent acquisition of 174 acres from Pfizer. The physical area, Rapundalo allowed, did not represent new fire protection responsibility, but the university would not be paying property taxes on the parcel as Pfizer had.

Jones cautioned that the university should not be approached too aggressively on that front, because the university had the ability to provide its own fire protection, parallel to the way it has provided its own department of public safety. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked why this would be perceived as a negative. Jones suggested that the city wanted to be the entity that provided the fire service in the area – but it wanted to be funded to do it.

Short Term: Firefighters and Integrated Funding

The short-term challenge, however, is not in rethinking the ways that city services are delivered. There’s a $3 million shortfall in the current FY 2010 budget that requires action, said city administrator Roger Fraser. What Fraser is proposing to begin enacting the week of Dec. 7 is as follows:

Immediate Changes for Mid-FY 2010 

Recurring Savings
$  125,000 eliminate contingencies
    38,707 elimination of temporary-contracted
           crews/non-park tree removals
   259,001 transfer stump removal, tree planting
           from general fund to stormwater (requires council action)
    45,360 eliminate hand trimming with mowing
    98,000 change mowing cycle for parks from 14 to 19 days
   811,475 do not fill extra police vacancies from
           the early-out program
   206,000 adjustment to total compensation  

 1,583,543 total recurring  

Non-recurring savings
$  135,000 lower-than-budgeted losses for golf courses
     5,000 decrease in temporary staff time
   500,000 tax refunds budgeted for Pfizer but settled
           in prior year
    90,000 eliminate vacancy in budget office
    23,875 decrease in conference, training and travel
    10,000 don't fill anticipated facilities vacancy
           slated for April 2010
    28,000 new estimates for energy savings on utilities
           for rec facilities
   396,803 fire personnel reductions - planned
           reductions advanced to Jan. 2010
    10,000 reduce contribution to the Ann Arbor Affordable
           Housing Trust Fund by 10%
   250,000 eliminate Joint Integrated Funding  

 1,448,678 total non-recurring 

$3,032,221 total recurring & non-recurring savings

-

Of these items, the most concern among councilmembers was expressed about eliminating Joint Integrated Funding and laying off firefighters six months earlier than had originally been planned.

Joint Integrated Funding

What is Joint Integrated Funding? From a city press release in May 2008:

The Joint Integrated Funding project, which is coordinated by the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and United Way, in cooperation with the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, raises funds for an integrated approach to providing housing support services for low-income residents.

Jayne Miller said that given a choice between Joint Integrated Funding and other human services funding, Mary Jo Callan, who directs the city-county office of community development, recommended making the cut in Joint Integrated Funding. It had been a two-year pilot program. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed concern that cutting the Joint Integrated Funding might simply shift the problem eventually to safety services. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that human services funding was also still on the table to be cut.

Briere also noted that the city council had just recently approved emergency funding for additional sheltering capacity for the homeless in advance of the coming winter. [Chronicle coverage: "Council OKs Transit, Recycling, Shelter"]

Firefighter layoffs

Several members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 attended at least part of the budget retreat, including Matt Schroeder, who’s president of the local. Schroeder recently gave a presentation to the University of Michigan regents, in which he warned that pending layoffs would mean less fire protection for the UM campus. [Chronicle coverage: "Regents Get Update on Town-Gown Relations"]

Stephen Kunselman and Matt Schroeder

Matt Schroeder, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693, left, and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) declared that one of his priorities was preserving firefighter jobs and his priority for funding those jobs for another six months was to use the city’s economic development fund, which had been established in order to provide parking permits for Google employees – Google had made provision of the free parking passes a condition on their choice to locate offices of their AdWords division in downtown Ann Arbor.

Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, quickly cautioned that funding operations from a savings fund would represent a “significant departure” from the city’s financial practice. Kunselman responded, saying that the staff had made clear to the council that there should be “no sacred cows.” Crawford replied that it was not a sacred cow that was at stake, but rather a standard financial practice.

The one situation when it might be possible “to get away with” funding operations out of savings, Crawford said, was if the city knew it was “at the bottom” and that the economy was on its way to recovery. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) declared that he preferred to use the economic development funds for what they were intended. Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she was also against using the fund for firefighter positions, saying it sent a bad message.

Kunselman said that the bad message being sent from the point of view of economic development was that the city would not be able to provide fire protection to downtown businesses – at which point city administrator Roger Fraser shot back: “That totally misrepresents the situation, Stephen!”

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in, saying one option that had been presented to the firefighters was an across-the-board wage cut in order to save some jobs – it was an idea that had not been embraced, he reported. Fraser confirmed Hieftje’s remarks.

Fraser then offered the council some perspective on his position at the bargaining table with the firefighter’s union. He said that the council’s unwillingness to face the need to change, and their willingness to continue to bail out the unions, lent credence to the union’s belief that they’d continue to be bailed out.

Kunselman questioned why the city’s relationship with its unions did not seem as healthy as the county’s. [Chronicle coverage of county union concessions: "AFSCME union concessions help, but other issues remain"] Fraser said that the county had not gotten any concessions from its Act 312 unions.

Michigan’s Act 312 outlines requirements for compulsory arbitration of labor disputes for police and fire departments. In a recent arbitration case involving the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, the arbiter ruled in favor of the union, and the city council needed to appropriate an additional $673,000 to cover the settlement cost.

At the budget retreat, the city’s head of human resources, Robyn Wilkerson, said that while the benefits provided to the unions were perceived as generous, it was important to recognize that the deciding opinion in these matters was the arbiter.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) requested some information on standards for staffing levels, saying that she still had great discomfort making a decision without a fire chief in the room to provide assurances that fire protection staffing standards and response times would be met. She said she recognized that there was likely little support on the council for delaying the layoffs, but wanted to leave her objection on the record.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that there was actually enough in the general fund reserve to plug every hole in this year’s budget, but that he was not in favor of “kicking the can down the road.”

Based on the budget retreat conversation, councilmembers will seek some clarification at their meeting on Dec. 7 about what fire protection service will look like with 14 firefighter layoffs, but they are unlikely to stop the layoff notices from being sent out in the week following the meeting.

Sabra Briere summed up the retreat when near the end she declared: “We are going to have a serious austerity budget.”

Section: Govt.

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Nov 22, 2009

Fire damages Memorial Christian Church on Tappan Street

A fire at Memorial Christian Church in Ann Arbor has left the building smoke damaged but structurally sound, officials say.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department received the call around 12:30 p.m. Saturday after reports of smoke coming from the church’s steeple, located at 730 Tappan Street.

Acting Battalion Chief Matt Schroeder said 16 firefighters arrived at the scene and had the fire under control within 20 minutes.

“Everybody in the city except for one unit came to the fire,” he said. “We were all committed.”

Schroeder said no one was in the church at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries. However, the building, he said, survived with a close call.

“Our crews were very quick and thorough in their attack and were able to control the fire in a very timely manner,” he said. “They made a great save. A few minutes longer the church would have been up in flames.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.


Nov 02, 2009

 

Ann Arbor family dies in fire

By Art Aisner, Special Writer

The bodies of an elderly Ann Arbor couple and their middle-aged son were pulled from the charred remains of a home they shared on the city's southwest side Sunday, officials said.

For several hours firefighters, who found the home at 1701 Waverly Road fully engulfed in flames at about 3 a.m., hoped the residents might not have been home.

But as day broke and no word from the residents or relatives came, the inevitable sank in.

"It's one of those situations where you know no one inside could have survived and you just hope for the best. It's a really sad situation," Ann Arbor Acting Fire Battalion Chief Dan Krueger said as investigators sifted through the remains with shovels and other hand tools Sunday afternoon.

Neither police nor fire officials would confirm the name of the victims until the closest next of kin was notified, which appeared to be a nephew in Massachusetts.

Neighbors said the home belonged to Demetri and Joanna Alexandropoulos for several decades. The Greek immigrants retired from the restaurant business several years ago.

Their son, John, believed to be in his 40s, also lived there and had a knack for repairing things, ranging from computers to auto components such as engine blocks. Krueger said they found such equipment on the scene, but could not say if it played any role in starting the fire.

The exact cause was undetermined Sunday and could remain that way due to the severity of the damage, Krueger said. He said there was no reason to believe it was suspicious.

"Basically, the fire was so severe that the house collapsed upon itself," Krueger said.

The first personnel to arrive on the scene said the blaze seemed to be centrally located in the ranch-style house, which was built right on the corner of Waverly and Weldon streets in the 1950s.

But it had already consumed too much of the house for any rescue attempts by firefighters.

Police said that several neighbors called 9-1-1 to report the fire and that witnesses told them they screamed and broke windows to see if anyone was inside.

"I didn't know them, but it's just such an awful tragedy," said one neighbor, who didn't want to be identified as she watched the large earthmover's claw dumping scoopfuls of wet and charred debris from the crater where the house once stood. "This is an unbelievable sight."

Firefighters were on another call when the first reports of the house fire came in. It took roughly 10 minutes for them to get to the scene.

Krueger said the residents were last seen Saturday evening during the typical Halloween trick-or-treating times.

It was unclear if the home had working smoke detectors or whether the residents had mobility issues.

Cadaver dogs with the Michigan State Police located two bodies, believed to be the parents, in the area where first-floor bedrooms would have been at about 12:30 p.m., officials said. The third body was found at about 4 p.m. near a few mattresses in the basement, which served as his bedroom.

Investigators with both Ann Arbor police and fire departments, along with the Michigan State Police, painstakingly searched for clues as to what sparked the early-morning blaze.

Ann Arbor Detective Sgt. Pat Hughes said detectives were on scene to assist the fire department, as they would with any potentially fatal fire, and that their presence does not indicate a belief the fire was suspicious.

Autopsies were scheduled for Monday.
 


Nov 01, 2009

Updated 4:30 p.m.: Three bodies found in Ann Arbor home gutted by fire; cause not yet known

WaverleyFire3.jpg

Firefighters look over the rubble of a home at 1701 Waverly Road destroyed by fire early Sunday.

Mark Bialek | For AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor firefighters found three bodies buried in the rubble of a home on the city's southwest side that was gutted by fire early this morning.

Officials said the bodies have not been identified but are believed to be a couple and their adult son. It's unclear where they were inside the home when the fire broke out because the entire structure collapsed into the basement, authorities said.

The bodies were found separately between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

The fire quickly gutted the 1950s single-family home at 1701 Waverly Road in the Vernon Downs neighborhood. Neighbors called at 2:58 a.m. to report the house was on fire, Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said.

"It was fully involved," Cook said. "The walls collapsed within minutes of our arrival. The house is in the basement now."

WaverleyFire.jpg

Fire officials say they've been unable to get in contact with the family whose home was gutted by fire.

Mark Bialek | For AnnArbor.com

Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard said the fire appears to have started in the basement, and there's no reason to believe it's suspicious at this point. Officials say combustible fuel stored at the home may have caused the fire to spread quickly.

Neighbors say they tried to help, but the fire was so intense that they couldn't get inside the home to see whether anyone was there.

Mike Hoffman, who was staying next door, called 911 and ran to the house as flames were shooting through its roof and moving north toward the bedrooms, he said. He found a piece of pipe near some hedges along a sidewalk, picked it up and used it to break two bedroom windows.

"I was just yelling, 'Is anybody in there?" he said. "Is anybody in there?"

The house was three quarters engulfed in flames, and Hoffman never heard a response or saw anyone before intense heat drove him away. Hoffman, a former Ann Arbor resident who lives in Philadelphia, was staying overnight with a friend.

"It's very sad to hear that," Hoffman said after learning bodies had been found. "I had this very bad feeling. We were kind of hoping we would hear a better story at the end."

When calls of the fire came in, the city's closest fire trucks were already on another call on Greenview, where black smoke from a chimney had been reported. It took firefighters 10 minutes to clear that scene and get to the home on Waverly, and they also were originally sent to an incorrect address, Cook said.

"It took extra time because the trucks that would normally be there were tied up and had to turn around and get there," Cook said.

When firefighters arrived, they were unable to go into the home to search for occupants because flames were shooting from every window and the roof, Cook said. It took 20 firefighters about an hour to get the blaze under control.

fire2.jpg

Michigan State Police and Ann Arbor detectives work with a dog to search the property.

Mark Bialek | For AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor fire investigators, police detectives and Michigan State Police fire investigators were on the scene all day searching through the debris. They used construction equipment to move some of the debris and searched a car in the driveway that the son regularly drove.

Detectives removed several rifles from the home, but police said they didn't appear to be related to the fire.

Cook said it's too early to tell what may have caused the fire.

Neighbor Donita Ehnis said the home was consumed with flames before firefighters arrived.

"When we were standing there last night, there's no way anyone would have gotten out there alive," Ehnis said. "We figured they were home. It's a tragedy."

Jim Townsend, 40, who lives next door to the family, said he wanted to help them, but couldn't. He woke up about 2:50 a.m. to a neighbor pounding on his front door. Flames were shooting near the side of his house as he and his wife hurried to the other bedrooms to wake up five young children.

"I just started screaming 'Fire! Get out!," he said. "By the time I came out and got the children away from the house, there was nothing you could do. The flames were so high already."

Barbara Richter, who lives across the street from the home, said her husband woke at about 3 a.m. to use the bathroom and noticed the living room was brightly lit. When he saw the fire, he yelled to her to call 911.

"It was beyond going by the time they got there," Richter said.

Family members who lived there were Demetri and Joanna Alexandropoulos, and their 42-year-old son John.

Richter said Demetri worked as a chef at several local restaurants, and she and Joanna worked together at Rite-Aid several years ago. She said the family kept to themselves and had lived in the home since it was built in the mid-1950s.

Lee Higgins of AnnArbor.com contributed to this story.


Oct 26, 2009

Raging fire Saturday night destroys abandoned building on South University

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Firefighters put out the fire on South University Saturday night

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By: Mallory Jones and Emily Orley
Daily Staff Reporters
Published October 25th, 2009

Click here to view a slideshow with more photos.

University students and Ann Arbor residents lined South University Avenue Saturday night just like any other weekend, eager to get into the restaurants and bars along the crowded street.

But the scene drastically changed after a large fire broke out on the west side of the street.

The former location of Pinball Pete’s, at 1217 S. University Ave., caught fire a little before 11 p.m. Saturday night, drawing hundreds of displaced students, firefighters and police officers to what quickly became a hectic scene.

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski told The Michigan Daily that firefighters first responded to a 911 call received at 10:51 p.m.

Four fire crews immediately rushed to the scene. After initial reports were received from the firefighters on scene, the chief deputy called in a fifth crew for backup. Five minutes later, the Pittsfield Township and Ann Arbor Township fire departments were asked to send one crew each to the growing blaze.

“At the height of the fire there were 55 firefighters actively fighting,” Dziubinski said.

The fire became so large that there was concern it would spread to neighboring University Towers, an adjacent apartment building that houses hundreds of University students.

Despite these worries, it was quite some time before the building was completely evacuated. Many residents remained inside the building and watched the flames from their rooms before they were forced to leave.

“A lot of people were leaving because of the smoke,” Engineering sophomore Billy Mayer said. “But if people didn’t leave because of the smoke, they didn’t leave because of the fire alarm.”

Mayer, who lives on the eleventh floor of University Towers, did not evacuate until almost midnight, when police officers arrived and told him he had to leave the building.

LSA sophomore Gabe VanLoozen said he remained in his apartment until the fire alarm went off, almost an hour after he first smelled smoke.

“We had a great view from my apartment, it was pretty cool looking,” VanLoozen said. “The alarm went off and it got really noisy so we decided we should get out, but we were watching it for about an hour before the alarm went off.”

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said approximately 600 students from University Towers were temporarily displaced because of the fire. She said students were allowed back into the building around 2 a.m.

But many students reported that they weren’t notified when the building was reopened.

“I had a friend check the door close to 1:00 a.m. but it was still closed,” VanLoozen said. “I checked it myself around 1:30 a.m. and it was open so I went back in.”

According to VanLoozen, the only people in the building after the fire besides the returning residents were inspectors making sure the air quality was safe.

After several attempts to speak with the management of University Towers yesterday, the Daily was told the manager was not working and was unreachable.

Cunningham said the extent of the damage was limited to six apartments in the building.

Undergraduate Program Coordinator Cheryl Erdmann sent an e-mail to Communications Studies majors Sunday night, informing them of damage to the Communications Studies offices located in the same building as University Towers.

"Our offices have sustained minor damage from smoke and water and a broken front glass door pane," Erdmann wrote in the e-mail. "We do not have computer or telephone access in the department at this time."

"We are attempting to resolve these issues as quickly as possible," she added.

Dziubinski told the Daily that investigation had begun into the cause of the fire as of 2 a.m. Sunday morning. But he said he was unable to comment on the investigation because it is ongoing.

 


Oct 25, 2009

Late night blaze ravages South University Avenue building

Chris Dzombak/Daily

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By: Daily Staff

Published October 24th, 2009

This is a developing story. Check the Daily's website for updates throughout the day tomorrow and in print Monday as more details emerge.

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Police guard the entrance to University Towers, which had been evacuated.
Chris Dzombak/Daily

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Ann Arbor firefighters fought back flames late Saturday night that raged from an abandoned building located in between Momo Tea and University Towers on the 1200 block of South University Avenue.

The inferno caused the building’s roof to collapse. The building is the former location of Pinball Pete’s, which now stands across the street from the scene of the fire. As the building burned, it still bore a sign that read, “Campus Pinball.”

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski said the department got a number of calls starting at around 10:13 p.m., most of which came from people in the University Towers apartment complex.

When firefighters arrived there, within three minutes, “the building was fully engulfed in flames,” Dziubinski said.

He added that 45 firefighters from both the Pittsfield Township Fire Department and the Ann Arbor Fire Department were working to combat the fire. He also said that he does not suspect foul play, but did add that the incident is still under investigation.

Dziubinski said he still didn’t know as of 12:45 a.m. how many students were displaced by the fire, which caused some damage to the third floor of University Towers. But emergency personnel did evacuate 600 students from the building, Dziubinski said.

In a phone interview at about 1:10 a.m. early Sunday morning, University Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said the Dean of Students office and University Housing were in the process of determining which students needed temporary shelter or actual housing.

“People are working on it,” Brown said. “We haven’t evaluated completely the scope of the issue at hand or how many people really need a relocation.”

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham wrote in an e-mail just after 1:30 a.m. that Susan Eklund, the University’s Dean of Students, was on the scene assisting students.

Brown added that she did not know of anyone needing to receive medical attention.

When Daily reporters arrived on the scene at around 11:00 p.m. Saturday night, crowds slowly began to line the sidewalk of South University Avenue from the corner of East University Avenue to South Forest Avenue and stayed there for about an hour.

As firefighters tried to quell the flames, Marni Glovinsky, who said she has lived in Ann Arbor her whole life, was standing directly across the street from the inferno with her hands on her face, sobbing.

She said she remembered going to Pinball Pete's almost every day as a teenager.

“It’s like watching your whole childhood burn down,” she said.

The roof and windows of the building were burning and billowing with smoke, but by sometime between 12:15 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. the fire had been mostly contained.

LSA sophomore Navya Varshney said she was watching the fire in her room on the eighth floor of University Towers for about five minutes before she and her roommates decided to pull the fire alarm and leave the building at around 10:50 p.m. or 11 p.m.

“We were literally right above the fire,” she said.

LSA sophomore Giovanny Navarro, who lives on the 11th floor of University Towers, said he didn’t leave the building until around 11:50 p.m., when police officers came through and forced everyone to evacuate the building, though the alarm had already been sounding for about a half hour.

    Navarro said he decided not to leave when he first heard the alarm because he could see the smoke wasn’t coming from his building, adding that many other residents did the same thing.

Law School student Keil Hur, who also lives in University Towers, said he smelled smoke in the building before he heard the alarm.

“We smelled something burning, after a while I heard sirens outside,” he said. “10 to 15 minutes later the alarm came on. The hall was full of smoke.”

— Daily News Editors Matt Aaronson, Trevor Calero and Kyle Swanson and Daily Staff Reporters Mallory Jones and Emily Orley reported this story. It was written by Daily News Editors Jillian Berman and Jacob Smilovitz.

 


Oct 25, 2009

With video: Blaze guts former Pinball Pete's near the University of Michigan campus

 

 

This story was updated at 2 a.m.

The vacant Pinball Pete's near the University of Michigan campus was destroyed tonight in a large blaze that forced evacuations and drew a massive crowd.

The fire was reported at about 10:13 p.m., and flames were still visible until about 12:40 a.m. in the area of South University Avenue and Church Street.


 

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski said when firefighters arrived after receiving several 911 calls, they found flames shooting from the back side of the University Towers.

 

Dziubinski said the Pinball Pete's building was vacant and hadn't had gas or electric service for some time.

The roof of Pinball Pete's collapsed, and aerial trucks from several fire departments were being used to spray water on the blaze. At times, water bounced off the structures and into the large crowd, which cheered in response.

 

 

Dziubinski said the cause of the blaze isn't know, and no injuries have been reported. Fire investigators and police detectives were inside the building at about 2 a.m. to begin investigating how the fire started.

The large fire forced evacuations of nearby buildings, including the high-rise University Towers. Dziubinski said more than 600 U-M students were evacuated, and four apartments had heavy smoke and water damage.

U-M junior Carlene Zhang, 19, lives in University Towers and said she was in her room on the fifth floor when a friend came to alert her that Pinball Pete's was on fire. She and others said several floors of University Towers were filled with smoke.

Steve Thompson, who lives on the 11th floor of University Towers, said he heard fire trucks arriving just before the fire alarms activated in the building. He described the evacuation as calm and orderly.

"By the time we got outside, it seemed like they had a good response, and it wasn't an inferno or anything," he said.

By 1:20 a.m., fire officials were letting some residents back inside the towers. University housing officials and the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross also responded to the scene to assist students and residents.

 

 

South University Avenue from Church to Forest streets was blocked off. About 45 firefighters were on the scene and were expected to be there most of the night, officials said.

Aaron Hein and his fiancee drove to the scene from their home on the city's west side after hearing about the fire from a friend. Hein worked at Pinball Pete's in 1998.

The two said the building was an important landmark for them. They watched the blaze for more than an hour, and Hein's fiancee cried as flames shot from both sides of the structure.

"It's sad to watch a piece of my childhood go," Hein said.


- Reporting at the scene by David Jesse and Stefanie Murray; written by Amalie Nash.

If you have photos, videos or information about the fire, you can e-mail us at news@annarbor.com.

More photos from the scene sent in by readers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flick slideshow by Christiane Evaskis.

 

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Photo by Kristen Oltersdorf

 

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Photo by Emma Bumstead

 

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University of Michigan students cover up from the smoke that was pouring down South University Avenue.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com

 

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An Ann Arbor firefighter tries to get close to the flames shooting out of the roof.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com

 

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Ann Arbor firefighters walk along the roofline of the old Campus Pinball building on South University Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com


Oct 22, 2009

Ann Arbor fire chief's final e-mail to staff indicative of challenges ahead

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Ann Arbor firefighters - from left, Matthew Hughes, Danielle Lalonde and Phil Smith - stand outside Station No. 1 on Fifth Street after returning from a call Tuesday evening.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

 

Before he turned in his badge and hung up his hat, Fire Chief Samuel Hopkins told Ann Arbor firefighters he'd pray for them.

"During these tough economic times, it is difficult to make up for the poor administrative decisions that were made during more prosperous periods," Hopkins wrote in a Sept. 10 e-mail to the entire city fire department.

"Therefore this city finds itself in financial difficulties," the chief continued. "In order to salvage the budget problems, the decision makers are planning to ask our members to sacrifice so that this city can attempt to recover economic stability going forward. In leaving, I pray that your safety and the safety of this beautiful city isn't part of the casualties of your sacrifice."

AnnArbor.com received more than 400 pages of e-mails sent to and from Hopkins between Sept. 6 and 19, the last two weeks of his four-year stint as fire chief. The records, obtained Tuesday, came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted Sept. 28.

Hopkins hasn't returned calls from AnnArbor.com since announcing his retirement. But his e-mails add credence to rumors that the chief, who was well-respected within his department, left partly because he was frustrated with budget pressures in city hall. 

City Administrator Roger Fraser has proposed laying off 14 firefighters to address an expected budget deficit for 2010-11.

"The proposal to lay off 14 people is included in the budget plan for July of next year and that's still true," Fraser said. "We have requested that the fire department give us some cost reduction strategies that don't involve the layoff of firefighters and so far we haven't gotten much from them that does enough to mitigate even saving one position."

Fraser said he didn't think the proposed cuts directly pose a safety threat to firefighters or residents.

"There's nothing about the amount of staffing that directly relates to the safety of firefighters. It's all in how people are used on the scene of a fire," he said. "I know that that's a common plea when discussions are made about possible reductions, but the fact is that that's all in the hands of the people who are managing the scene."

 

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Ann Arbor firefighter Danielle Lalonde loads a kit back onto the truck after responding to an injury call.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

As contract negotiations continue this week between the firefighters' union and city leaders, interim Fire Chief Greg Hollingsworth said morale in the department has been low. That's especially true for firefighters with low seniority, he said.

 

"They've all got families to worry about, so morale is an issue right now," Hollingsworth said.

A Facebook group called "Support the Ann Arbor Fire Department" was formed last week by what appears to be an employee of the department. It calls for a citizen response to the proposal to lay off firefighters and warns council members a vote against public safety "could end up being a vote against them come election time."

Matt Schroeder, president of the firefighters' union, said the layoffs would impact the fire department's ability to provide acceptable service and Ann Arbor already is ranked below the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. He declined to comment further, saying it's too sensitive an issue right now.

Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, said the fire department has been asked to cut $1.4 million from its budget before the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Crawford, who recently predicted a deficit as high as $5.8 million in next year's budget, said he plans to give an updated financial forecast to the City Council in November.

This isn't the first time the city has proposed laying off firefighters - nor is it the first time firefighters have battled back with a public campaign to save jobs. The most recent round of layoff talks came in 2007, when the city proposed laying off three firefighters and leaving three vacant positions unfilled.

By that time, the city had already cut the budget for six years straight. Despite several rounds of layoff talks, no firefighter layoffs have occurred.

In the meantime, the fire department is watching its budget carefully and growing more frugal. An annual community open house scheduled for this coming weekend has been canceled in an effort to save the $5,000 to $7,000 it cost in the past to put on.

In its place will be a smaller event at Station 6, 1881 Briarwood Circle. The station will be open to the public from 1-4 p.m. Sunday for anyone who wants to stop in, but there will be no festivities.

"We're trying to find a few thousand here and a few thousand there to do what we can," Hollingsworth said. "We're working on trying to find any and all kinds of dollars we can use to offset some of these jobs."

The fire department currently operates on a budget of about $14 million a year, the bulk of which goes to wages and benefits for firefighters. 

The department has 94 full-time employees, which includes two management assistants and the chief; the rest are in the firefighters' union. In 2001-02, the department had 113.5 full-time equivalent employees.

Hollingsworth said the clock is ticking for the fire department to come up with creative ways to cut costs, and at this point, it may be hard to avoid layoffs.

"A lot of our costs are personnel costs, so outside of personnel costs, we don't have a million dollars over and above that to actually cut," said Hollingsworth, who was assistant fire chief prior to his promotion.

He said the looming cuts present a threat to the safety of Ann Arbor residents and firefighters.

"If we end up losing some of these firefighters, obviously we're going to have to reduce the number of trucks we have in service and potentially close a station," he said. "Response times are going to get longer, we're going to have to consolidate some stations, and that'll be a big thing."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Sep 29, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighter living the dream

 
 By Lisa Allmendinger, A2 Journal

Ann Arbor firefighter Ira Harrison had just emerged from a 10-foot-10 burn room where temperatures reached 1,300 degrees at the ceiling level.

At 400 degrees, the mask firefighters wear begins to melt.

It was about 550 degrees over the top of his helmet, which was protected by "a Jiffy Pop cover," so it wasn't damaged.

He just had the opportunity to safely watch all the stages of a flashover fire during a training session at Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 -- his second home -- near Briarwood Mall.

The youngest of five children, Harrison, a 16-year veteran of the department, was ready to go right back inside.

Despite dripping sweat, Harrison talked about the experience.

"I'd tank up and do it again," he said with a smile. "It wasn't bad."

In fact, he enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about firefighting -- watching and learning as smoke filled the box that he occupied with seven other firefighters and instructors.

Harrison likened it to situations he had seen before. But, in this instance, he knew he wouldn't get hurt.

Harrison had an opportunity to safely fight the fire rather than back out and get away from it.

"They had let the fire rebuild and part of it was seeing when smoke catches, and gets hot, and banks down," he said.

"It gets real hot, but you're down low," Harrison said, recalling the experience.

"It wasn't hotter than some of the places I've been in," he said, referring to a house fire that "got very hot, but didn't flash."

A flashover is described as "when everything in the room bursts into flame and gets very hot."

Although Harrison hasn't been in a flashover, he's fought some bad fires.

He said the guys and gals at the Ann Arbor Fire Department are like family to hime.

"Everyone's got your back and you have theirs," he said.

Harrison recalled one of the worst fires he had experienced.

"It was one of the first times I drove, and you see guys who need your help. One of my good friends was in it, and I was in the truck. It felt weird," he said.

Chuck Hubbard has known Harrison for 24 years.

"He's a great guy -- a good fireman, a good person and family man, and a really good cook," Hubbard said.

In fact, last Sunday, Harrison was making tacos for the substation crew.

"I'm a rare commodity in Ann Arbor," he said, explaining that he was hired by the fire department with no experience and was put through the fire academy.

Today, it's different he said. The firefighters who are hired already have experience.

Harrison has spent his entire firefighting career with Ann Arbor

And, like most firefighters, he has a second job.

When asked what makes a good firefighter, Harrison said, the good ones "love people and like to help people."

He said the Ann Arbor Fire Department is filled with people who possess many different skills.

And he's proud to be one of them.

Lisa Allmendinger can be reached at lallmendinger@heritage.com or at 1-877-995-NEWS (6397).
 

 

 


Sep 23, 2009

Updated: Large fire guts historic building in Ypsilanti's Depot Town; officials label fire 'suspicious'

 

 

Updated at 10:10 a.m.

A massive historic building that was under renovation in Ypsilanti's Depot Town was gutted in an early morning fire that appears suspicious, city fire officials say.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but Ypsilanti Fire Inspector John Roe said it doesn't appear to be accidental.

“I don’t suspect this fire started by accident,” he said. “Accidental fires of this nature would not burn that quickly.”


 


 

A damage estimate is not yet available this morning. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters from several departments were at the scene for hours.

The fire broke out at about 1:40 a.m. at the Thompson Block at northeast corner of Cross and River streets, across from the Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Depot Town. Firefighters said they were on the scene in minutes, but an exact response time was not available this morning.

Flames were shooting from the building when crews arrived, and they called for help from firefighters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township and Superior Township.

Ypsilanti fire officials said the building, which was being remodeled for lofts and retail space, was significantly damaged. Part of the building's roof collapsed, officials said.

Fire inspectors have not yet been able to enter the building to assess the damage and investigate. They're awaiting approval from engineers to get inside the structure, officials said.

The building, which had electricity running to it, was boarded up and locked, investigators said. Authorities received no reports of any suspicious activity in the area. 

The $3.5 million renovation project on the building started in 2006. Officials said all three floors were being renovated, and construction tools, plywood and other items were inside.

 

 

According to the Ypsilanti building department, permits for work in the building expired April 29; no one was authorized to work on site after that date. Fire officials said they received reports that workers were in the building as recently as Friday; it's unclear whether they were working or the nature of any ongoing work in the building.

Owner Stewart Beal told AnnArbor.com last month that he hoped to relaunch construction on the property and reopen his leasing office by Sept. 1.

 

Beal acquired the building in May 2006 for $346,186; it's in a tax-free development zone.

Beal, reached on the scene this morning, said he’d been at the site since 3:30 a.m. He described the damage as “complete and total.”

“This is a major, major fire in two-thirds of the building,” he said, describing the roof and interior destruction behind the wall that remains standing.

But he said the entire building isn't damaged: “One-third is like it was yesterday.”

Beal has at least 20 employees of his construction company on-site this morning, evaluating the condition and securing the property.

“We’re analyzing (damage) and scrambling to make sure the rest of the building doesn’t fall,” Beal said.

Beal declined to comment on the fire investigation or whether work was occurring on the property without the necessary permits.

 

 

Ypsilanti City Council member Pete Murdock, who lives near the scene, called the blaze a setback for plans to revitalize the neighborhood.

“People were looking forward to that building being renovated," he said. "It was an empty eyesore basically. Nobody wants vacant buildings, especially large ones that dominate the landscape.”

Murdock said he had hoped after the building was renovated, it would attract more people to Depot Town.

Howard Bowen, 48, could see the fire as he was standing outside the Ypsilanti District Library's branch on Michigan Avenue about 1:45 a.m., he said.

 

"I walked down and flames were shooting out the roof, out the windows," he said this morning.

Mary Potts, owner of Potts Studio, a photography studio in Depot Town, said it's tragic that a fire broke out at the historic building, but it's fortunate the building was empty.

"Hopefully, it is insured and will be taken care of," Potts said.

The fire appears to have started on the second floor of the vacant three-story building, said Ypsilanti City Fire Capt. Max Anthouard.

AnnArbor.com's Paula Gardner and Amalie Nash contributed to this report.

 

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Firefighters used aerial trucks to pour water on the large blaze.

Photo courtesy of Gary Urick

 

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Ypsilanti City Council member Pete Murdock took this photo of the fire this morning.

Photo courtesy of Pete Murdock

 

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A Superior Township Fire Department ladder truck sprays water into one of the windows of a warehouse on the corner of Cross and River Streets in Ypsilanti's Depot Town that caught fire early this morning.

Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com


Sep 21, 2009

Regents Get Update on Town-Gown Relations

Updates from Kosteva, Ann Arbor firefighter
Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety.

Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety. (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan Board of Regents (Sept. 17, 2009): UM regents heard two presentations at their Thursday board meeting that closely linked the university and the community of Ann Arbor. Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, gave an update on the ways that the university is involved with the city, including payments as well as partnerships. And Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke during public comment on the possibility of additional layoffs among city firefighters and the potential impact it would have on the university.

Ann Arbor Firefighters

Speaking during public comment time at the end of the meeting, Matt Schroeder, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693, said that his union was concerned about the possibility of 14 layoffs and the possible closure of two stations, due to city budget cuts. They are currently in negotiations with the city, he said, and he was coming to the regents meeting to inform them of the situation. Statements from city administrator Roger Fraser about possible layoffs “send an alarming message to us regarding citizen safety and the safety of our crews,” he said, noting that layoffs would have a direct impact on their ability to provide basic services. There are currently 92 Ann Arbor firefighters.

Schroeder passed out a document that included information on national standards for fire ground staffing, as well as comparisons between communities in the Big Ten and throughout Michigan. Those comparisons looked at general population size, student populations, number of firefighters and equipment. Ann Arbor has the lowest number of career firefighters per 1,000 population of any community in the Big Ten, he said. All but Iowa City have more than 1.1 firefighters per 1,000 people – Ann Arbor has 0.804, a figure that would drop to 0.682 if 14 firefighters were eliminated.

He reminded regents that the university has many large buildings, and relies on Ann Arbor firefighters to respond. [The university does not maintain its own fire department and does not make regular payments to the city for fire service. It does provide rent and operating costs for a north campus fire station, on Beal Avenue near Plymouth Road, which is staffed by Ann Arbor firefighters. The university occasionally makes other contributions, such as $300,000 it paid in fiscal 2004 for a city fire engine.]

Regents expressed support for the issues that Schroeder raised. Regent Larry Deitch said that he was concerned, adding that no other group of people are more selfless and brave than firefighters. Deitch asked what the regents could do to help. Schroeder said that they just wanted to convey the current situation, and that they feel they can’t absorb additional layoffs.

Regent Denise Ilitch said that her sister had been involved in a fire at a Chicago hotel, and a firefighter had saved her life. Rest assured, she told Schroeder, that university officials will do whatever they can to make sure that people in Ann Arbor and students at UM are safe.


Sep 20, 2009

WJBK Fox 2: Washtenaw County firefighters get flashover training

Washtenaw County firefighters trained Friday on how to identify a flashover - and Fox 2 Detroit reporter Ron Savage joined the drill.

According to Fox 2, "... this isn't just about running the usual drills. It's knowing what to do in one of the most frightening situations a firefighter could ever face."

Watch a video of Savage at the training, which was held at Ann Arbor Fire Station No. 6.


Sep 17, 2009

Three displaced by Garden Homes Court fire, two pets missing

Anthony Bowers is relieved none of his family members were injured in a fire that destroyed his Garden Homes Court house this afternoon.

But Bowers has not been able to find his parakeet Kite or cat Man Man who were inside when the blaze broke out in the kitchen about 1:05 p.m.

Fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire at the three-bedroom wood-frame home near Fulmer Street on the city's northwest side. Bowers, 20, lost clothing, family photographs and other items.

"I don't have much clothes to begin with, so if any of that is damaged, it's like starting back from scratch," he said.

He was in his bedroom watching television and heard a popping noise and thud, but thought nothing of it.

Minutes later, the smoke detector outside his bedroom door went off, he said. He walked into the hallway, and saw flames on the ceiling of the kitchen, which is about 30 feet away.

Bowers yelled for his 23-year-old sister, Denise, but there was no response. He pushed out the screen door in the back of the home, hurried to the front and where he found his 64-year-old cousin Roslyn Hatchett, who owns the home. Bowers led her away from it.

He went back inside to his bedroom to get his cell phone to call 911, pushed out the window screen and attempted to push out his parakeet, who was perched above the window.

"I tried to fan him out the window, but he flew back towards his cage because he was scared," Bowers said.

Bowers then climbed out the window. He said he doesn't know when his sister left the house, but he had seen her 20 minutes earlier.

Bowers lives there with his cousin and 52-year-old father, Walter, who was at work.

At least 21 firefighters from the city and Ann Arbor Township responded and had the fire under control in about 30 minutes, said Ann Arbor Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard.

Hubbard did not have a damage estimate.


Sep 10, 2009

Ann Arbor fire chief to retire next week, city officials say

Ann Arbor Fire Chief Samuel Hopkins is retiring at the end of next week, city officials told AnnArbor.com today.

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City Administrator Roger Fraser sent City Council members an e-mail today announcing that Hopkins has conveyed his intent to retire effective Sept. 19.

"Sam has expressed his firm desire that he be able to leave quietly, with no parties, coffees or other celebrations," Fraser said. "We are honoring that."

Hopkins spent 30-plus years with Lansing's fire department before retiring as chief there in the mid-1990s. He came out of retirement to join Ann Arbor's fire department.

"He came to us several years ago and has been an excellent leader of our fire services, while also setting the stage with neighboring fire jurisdictions for future collaborations," Fraser wrote in his e-mail today. "He and the Ypsi city fire chief worked out the currently successful functional fire service arrangement between our two cities that should serve as a model for future discussions with the neighboring townships."

AnnArbor.com was not able to reach Hopkins for comment today. His secretary said he was out of the office until next week.

Hopkins' retirement comes at a time when much pressure is being put on the fire department to change the way it does business and reduce costs. One proposal on the table calls for laying off 14 firefighters in next year's budget.

"There's no question we continue to be under a substantial crunch and we're doing everything we can to deal with that in a positive way," Fraser said.

Fraser has advised City Council it would be appropriate to appoint an interim fire chief sometime in the next two weeks. He said the city will take a look at its options for permanently filling the position after that.

Fraser said he doesn't think budget pressures are a reason Hopkins decided to retire. He said it was a planned retirement.

"Sam has actually submitted his retirement papers several times in the last year and a half," Fraser said. "He's been under increasing pressure from his family to resume his retirement. He's 67 years old. We had generally agreed he would leave sometime this fall, so it's not a surprise. We knew this was coming."

Before Hopkins was hired, the city of Ann Arbor had forced out its last three fire chiefs during a five-year period. Hopkins, who had served as Lansing's fire chief from 1987 to 1994, was brought on with the expectation that he would help end years of turmoil within the department, and city officials say he has.

Councilman Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, said he thinks the relationship between the fire department and the city's leadership has been positive under Hopkins' watch. He said Hopkins and the firefighters union have worked constructively with the city's leadership as the department has been reorganized and downsized over the last decade.

"Chief Hopkins was extremely dedicated to the firefighters who worked for him, and he was committed to pursuing regional opportunities, which is the wave of the future," Greden said. "We were grateful to have him leave retirement to join us, and I completely understand his desire to return to retirement."

Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529.


Sep 08, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters rescue pets from house fire

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued two dogs and four other small pets from a house fire this afternoon on the city's northside.

No one was home at the time of the fire, and there were no reported injuries.


Neighbors reported seeing smoke coming from the roof of the residence in the 800 block of Larkspur Street. Fire crews made a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape so that they could work on the fire, according to Battalion Chief Kevin Cook.

At this time, the blaze appears to have started in the bedroom, although the cause is still under investigation, said Cook.

Check back with AnnArbor.com for further details when they become available.


Sep 08, 2009

Ann Arbor police officer, son back on track after suffering burns in fire at family's vacation home

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Ann Arbor police officer Ron McLennan has returned to duty just weeks after a fire destroyed his northern Michigan cabin, leaving he and his 4-year-old son Jack with second-degree burns.

His wife, Eastern Michigan University police officer Susan McLennan, and 6-year-old son, Spencer, also escaped the blaze. It started when a kerosene heater ignited gas that leaked into the home.

Susan McLennan considers her husband a hero for rushing to the living room and scooping up the boys during the explosion at the Hawks home.

“He didn’t even take a second to hesitate,” she said. “He just saved his boys.”

Ron McLennan is grateful to be alive.

 

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“We were very lucky and fortunate and by the grace of God, none of use were seriously injured or killed,” he said. “The biggest thing is we have our two boys.”

The Chelsea area family had driven to the three-bedroom home west of Rogers City on Aug. 5, kicking off a planned nine-day vacation.

When they arrived, they unloaded the van, and McLennan opened up two 100-pound propane cylinders on the back of the house. He also lit the pilot light on the hot water heater in the basement.

The boys ate pizza rolls for dinner, then everyone gathered around a fire pit with plans to head to the beach the next day.

“It was a beautiful night,” McLennan said. “It was a full moon and the kids were having a blast eating S’mores.”

When they woke the next morning, it was 48 degrees, so McLennan put hooded sweatshirts on the boys and himself.

The children were in the living room watching a movie, and McLennan turned on the kerosene heater in the kitchen to warm the place up.

While his wife was cooking bacon, he noticed the flames around the burner were 6 inches high, which he found strange.

“I told her, ‘Turn that down,” he said. “'That flame is too high.' She said, ‘That’s as low as it can go.'”

 

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His wife tried another burner and encountered the same problem, so she turned it off.

McLennan turned the kerosene heater to the “off position,” but it was still glowing - which it typically does for a short time, he said.

He looked for a kill switch to turn it off faster when “a big blue flame erupted,” from underneath.

“I jumped up and yelled…” McLennan said. “The flame just erupted and at that point, it caught my face and hands. My wife screamed.”

The flames spread across the cabin through the dining room and into the living room, where the boys were sititng, McLennan said.

There was an explosion. The windows blew out. Flames shot outside then came back in, and nearly everything was on fire, he said.

“I just took off to the living room where the kids were,” he said. “Spencer was just sitting in a chair and he was screaming. He yelled, ‘Daddy!'”

McLennan scooped up Spencer in his left arm and hurried to the couch, where Jack was sitting and screaming. He grabbed Jack with his right arm.

“I couldn’t go out the front door because everything was on fire,” he said.

McLennan hurried back through the dining room and into the kitchen, where he found his wife.

He gave Spencer to her and yelled, “Go, go, go, go out that back door,'” he said.

They ran toward the road, which was about 50 yards away, and McLennan looked back on the way.

“The whole place was fully involved with big black smoke pouring out of it,” he said.

 

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They tried to flag down a car, but it didn’t stop, McLennan said. They ran a half-mile up the road to a house, and the man inside called 911.

As they waited for an ambulance, McLennan could see his hands were burned, and Jack had blisters developing on his face.

McLennan asked the resident if he could look at a mirror. 

“I needed to see how bad my face was,” he said. “The skin had just peeled off my face and then there were blisters on top of my right ear. My eyelashes were burned down to nubs and my eyebrows were burned.”

The family was taken to the Alpena Regional Medical Center, but Spencer did not require treatment. McLennan credits the sweatshirts with protecting he and Jack from suffering additional burns.

Susan McLennan had minor burns on her lips and nose.

Two Ann Arbor police officers picked up the family the next day and took them to the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center.

 

Ron McLennan spent three days at the hospital for burns to his face, hands and ears. Jack was there six days to be treated for burns to his face, an ear and hand.

 

McLennan and Jack encouraged each other during the recovery process and follow-up treatment.

“We’re back to normal now,” said McLennan.

 

 

The fire started because of a faulty gas line that led to an old furnace in the dining room, he said.

The home, which has been in the family for decades, was insured.

McLennan is grateful for the support of police department colleagues who raised hundreds of dollars for his family in less than 24 hours after the fire. He also praised the burn center, where he said he and his son received “extraordinary care” from nurses.

“They were very attentive, very caring,” he said. “They were fantastic.”

 

Jack will start preschool this week. The family is hoping to take the boys to their uncle’s home in Kalamazoo to go fishing, Susan McLennan said.

“It certainly made me more grateful for what we have and more appreciative of my boys and my family,” she said. “To go through something like this and make it through, most people don’t do that.”

Photo by Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com: From left to right - 6-year-old Spencer McLennan, his father Ron, brother Jack, 4, and mom Susan.

Fire photos taken Aug. 6, courtesy of McClennan family.

Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at leehiggins@annarbor.com or 734-623-2527.


Sep 07, 2009

Early morning fire destroys vacant house in Ypsilanti

An overnight fire destroyed a vacant two-story house on LeForge Road in Ypsilanti, city firefighters said.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported at 5:38 a.m. today, fire Capt. Max Anthouard said.

Anthouard said firefighters from Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Superior Township spent nearly four hours extinguishing the fire. The large, two-story, wood-frame house was destroyed, he said.

The house was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. The cause has not been determined and a fire investigator was at the scene this morning.


Sep 06, 2009

Two fires stretch crews thin in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township

Blazes lit the night sky above an elegant Ann Arbor house and a vacant apartment building in Ypsilanti Township, shooting flames above the treetops and stretching no fewer than six Washtenaw County fire departments to their limit Saturday evening.

Both blazes were reported just after nightfall and required the strenuous efforts of firefighters before being extinguished.

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The 8.32 p.m. call about a house fire at 3485 Narrow Gauge Way, in east Ann Arbor, received response from nine Ann Arbor Fire Department units. Ann Arbor Township assisted with two more units.

Meanwhile, just after 8:00 p.m., the Ypsilanti Township Fire Department was joined at the Stevens Drive apartment fire by units from the Ypsilanti Fire Department and Superior and Pittsfield Townships on a blaze that shot through the roof of the abandoned structure.

No injury was reported at either site.

Ann Arbor Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard said he had “no idea—who’s to say?” about what caused the large house at the corner of Narrow Gauge Way and Watershed Drive. The home was more than 50-percent consumed when firefighters arrived.

“The crews did a great job of getting it knocked down with what we had,” he said. Five hose lines were advanced to quench the flames. Several off-duty firefighters had to be called back to help at the scene.

A man who said he was at the Narrow Gauge Way address when the fire broke out stood in the street with neighbors but declined to answer questions about how it began.

Hubbard said he would have preferred additional help, but other departments were already tied up in Ypsilanti Township.

Ypsilanti Township Fire Department officials remained at the scene of the apartment building fire last Saturday and were unavailable for comment.

(Photo: Firefighters extinguish a blaze at a home on Narrow Gauge Way in Ann Arbor late Saturday.)


Aug 17, 2009

Fires damage two apartments in Ann Arbor

The Ann Arbor Fire Department battled two apartment fires that broke out within 30 minutes of each other Sunday night. Neither blaze caused any injuries.

The first fire was reported about 8 p.m. at 1910 W. Liberty St., according to a Fire Department press release. Firefighters found a blaze on the second floor of the building spreading to the roof. They quickly evacuated the occupants of two apartments and put out the fire.

Firefighters believe a cigarette left unattended on the patio started the blaze, the press release said. Damage was estimated at $25,000.

The second fire broke out at 2960 Birch Hollow Drive about 8:30 p.m. while firefighters were still at the scene of the first blaze. The fire was in the kitchen of a second-floor apartment. It was extinguished, and damage was estimated at $3,000.


Aug 09, 2009

Rollover accident injures driver on US-23

The driver of a pickup had to be extricated from his truck after a single-vehicle accident Saturday morning on the southbound US-23 connector to eastbound M-14.

Ann Arbor Township firefighters responded at 8.12 a.m. and found the man trapped inside the truck, which rested on its roof about 100 feet from the pavement, said Lieutenant Mark Volger.

The driver was transported in stable condition to the University of Michigan Hospital.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department assisted at the scene.


Aug 09, 2009

Service station's fuel leak reaches nearby Malletts Creek

A gasoline leak from a service station at Huron Parkway and Washtenaw Avenue spilled fuel into Malletts Creek Saturday morning, bringing out the Ann Arbor Fire Department’s hazardous materials unit to contain the spill.

Acting battalion Chief Amy Brow said the spill was large but “it was hard to estimate” the exact volume.

The department’s haz-mat unit placed booms in the creek to keep the fuel from flowing downstream to the Huron River. Personnel from the City of Ann Arbor’s Emergency Operations Center worked with the fire department to mitigate the situation, Brow said.

The city used a big vacuum machine to draw the fuel from the creek. Two fire engines were on the scene from about 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Rain that fell through the late morning helped to suppress the danger of fire.

Brow couldn’t say what caused the leak, and an employee answering the phone at East Ann Arbor Shell, 3240 Washtenaw Avenue, had no further information.


Jul 23, 2009

Ann Arbor man suffers burn in grease fire

A man was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital in stable condition today after his hand was burned in a grease fire at his South Division Street rental home, Ann Arbor fire officials said.

The fire broke out at about 4 p.m. The 59-year-old man was injured after he tried to extinguish it with a rag and pulled a pan off a burner, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

The fire caused $5,000 damage, Vogel said.


Jul 13, 2009

 

Residents escape from burning apartments; eight units damaged in Ann Arbor

by Art Aisnerl | The Ann Arbor News
Monday July 13, 2009, 10:55 AM

Shannon Duff and Tyler Ford, top left, look on as Ann Arbor Fire Department firefighter Tim Karolak, left, and Captain Tim Flack and clean up and give oxygen to the couple's two cats, Castor and Pollux. The animals were rescued from an apartment fire at the Meadowbrook Village apartment complex on Ann Arbor Saline Road Sunday night. Flack said the cats were found in a closet in the back of the apartment. The cats were scared, wet, covered in soot and suffering from a bit of smoke inhalation, but Flack said he thought they would recover.

All the residents of an Ann Arbor apartment complex safely escaped a fire that severely damaged their eight-unit building Sunday evening. The survivors included two cats found cowering in a closet in one of the burning apartments, officials said.

Residents of the Meadowbrook Village Apartments at 1515 Brookfield Drive, first called 911 upon seeing smoke coming from a first-floor porch and patio about 7 p.m., Ann Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain said.

No one was hurt, which Chamberlain attributed to several residents who knocked on apartment doors and alerted people to the blaze.
It was still unclear this morning what caused the fire or where it started.

Witness reports indicated several boxes on a first-floor patio were burning and that the fire spread upward to the unit above on the northeast side of the building.

Residents in the two most-damaged units were not home at the time.
Chamberlain said firefighters found the cats in the closet of one of the two-bedroom units. Their owners returned to the scene and took them to an emergency veterinary clinic.

The fire spread quickly to the roof, but was stopped by fire walls. Neighboring units to the east were damaged from the heat but did not catch fire.

"Very hot fire and flames were being whipped around considerably because of the wind," Chamberlain said.

Fire damaged a portion of the Meadowbrook Village apartment complex on Ann Arbor-Saline Road Sunday night. Two cats were rescued from the fire, but no one was injured in the blaze, which gutted at least one apartment.

The Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting residents with housing.

Ypsilanti city and Pittsfield Township firefighters assisted at the scene.

Damage estimates were not available.

Art Aisner can be reached at aaisner@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6823.


Jun 28, 2009

Rescuers safely extract three kayakers and canoeists from rushing Huron River

by Geoff Larcom | The Ann Arbor News
Saturday June 27, 2009, 4:18 PM

Rescuers plucked three people from the fast-moving waters of the Huron River in Washtenaw County Friday night and Saturday morning after canoe or kayak mishaps.

The first rescue occurred Friday night near Dexter-Huron Metropark northwest of Ann Arbor after a man's kayak became entangled in the branches of a tree in the river, said Keith DeZwaan, supervisor of the Marine Division of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

The man had been paddling with a group of others in canoes and kayaks down the Huron around 9:30 p.m. Two others had been able to get out of the river, DeZwaan said, but the high water pushed the man's kayak up against the branches in the near darkness.

Rescuers launched a boat into the river and went downstream to get the man, who was treated for bumps and scrapes and released, DeZwaan said.

The second incident occurred near Island Park in Ann Arbor late this morning, when a man and woman whose canoe had capsized were rescued from a dead tree in the water by members of the Sheriff's Department and the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

Police used a boat and needed a piece of rope to stabilize the craft in the water during the rescue. It took three trips to complete the rescue but the couple suffered no injuries, a news release from the Ann Arbor Fire Department said.

The man and woman from Ann Arbor were traveling with another couple, and the group had rented canoes from the canoe livery at Argo Pond, DeZwaan said.

He urged extreme caution when the river is as high as it is now, because the rising water causes more shoreline trees to fall into the river, creating more obstacles. If you are not an experienced paddler, think twice about going on the river when the water is this high, DeZwaan said


Jun 22, 2009

Updated: Police release name of worker killed at Mott Hospital construction site

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Monday June 22, 2009, 1:51 PM

The exterior of the new C.S. Mott Children's Hospital under construction on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. A worker was killed this morning when when construction materials fell on him.

Authorities have identified the man killed in a construction accident this morning at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital site in Ann Arbor as Gary Winisky Jr., 48.

Winisky, of Garden City, died at the emergency room of the University of Michigan Medical Center shortly after a heavy load of roofing materials fell from a crane and struck him, U-M police spokeswoman Diane Brown said.

Construction at the site has ceased for the remainder of the day while police and U-M building officials investigate.

"We are shocked and saddened by this terrible loss," U-M Health System CEO Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, said in a written statement.

This was the third fatal construction accident on the U-M campus in the past 16 months.

In late February 2008, a masonry worker fell 38 feet from scaffolding and was killed at the site of the expansion of the U-M Museum of Art. Investigators for the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration later fined the masonry company $62,000 and cited it for four violations of state safety statutes, saying it knowingly disregarded proper safety procedures.

In August, a 31-year-old Jackson man fell five stories down an elevator shaft at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business addition.

A fourth man was injured but survived a fall at the ongoing construction at Michigan Stadium.


Jun 20, 2009

Downed branches likely cause of Ann Arbor house fire

by From staff reports
Saturday June 20, 2009, 8:55 PM

At least two men escaped a rental house on the 800 block of Sybil Street in Ann Arbor that sustained heavy smoke and fire damage on Saturday evening.

Around 6 p.m., Ann Arbor Fire Department firefighters responded to reports of fallen tree branches that had pulled down some electrical wires.

While in the area, they began smelling smoke and found the basement of a nearby house was on fire.

It's suspected the fire started because of wires being pulled away from the house, said Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

There was no estimate yet of how much in damages the fire caused.


Jun 18, 2009

by Judy McGovern | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday June 18, 2009, 6:34 AM

Washtenaw County's largest fire department joins a regional dispatching system next month.

Ann Arbor's move to contract with Huron Valley Ambulance for fire dispatching is expected to prevent unnecessary calls for service and reduce labor, city officials say.

It will ultimately reduce the city's costs - but just how much remains to be seen, said Police Chief Barnett Jones, who oversees all safety services for the city.

"We'll know after we get in to it," he said.

Firefighters currently respond along with HVA paramedics to calls where an illness or accident is believed to be life-threatening. Dispatchers at HVA are better trained to make that judgment, said Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski.

Eliminating fire department responses to calls that don't rise to that level will save fuel, wear and tear on vehicles, and time, Dziubinski said.

The city's two-year contract with HVA bases payment on the volume of calls. The cost for fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 is about $100,000 a year.

The nonprofit HVA serves most of Washtenaw and parts of Wayne and Oakland counties. It already dispatches for nine fire departments in Washtenaw County. Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti are among those that still operate their own dispatch centers.

The city's police and fire departments have shared a dispatch center for about six years. The 23 dispatch positions will remain with the police department, Jones said.

City and county officials are working on a plan to consolidate police dispatch services, which county officials project could reduce costs by $6.4 million over 10 years.

The Huron Valley Ambulance Board of Trustees has agreed to build an addition for dispatch operations at its headquarters off State Circle in Pittsfield Township. The new center could open as early as the spring of 2010.

The city also expects its new contract with HVA will result in $89,000 in start-up costs for IT and telecommunications. Dziubinski said the costs can be covered in the department's existing budget and may be lower than predicted.

Judy McGovern can be reached at 734-994-6863 or jmcgovern@annarbornews.com.


Jun 07, 2009

Fire guts home in Pittsfield Township

by Tracy Davis | The Ann Arbor News
Saturday June 06, 2009, 4:36 PM

Firefighters battle a blaze at a home on Deakes Avenue in Pittsfield Township Saturday.

A dramatic fire gutted a Pittsfield Township home this afternoon, causing more than $200,000 in damage, township public safety officials said.
 

No injuries were reported. Firefighters were throwing soaked mattresses and furniture through what appeared to have been a living room window shortly after 2:30 p.m. at the Deakes Avenue home.

Police blocked the entrance to the street off Packard and fire engines lined Packard, slowing traffic.

A woman who identified herself as a family member of the woman who owns the home said that the homeowner, who was alone when the fire began, escaped the house unharmed.

"Thank God for that; she got out," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

The fire was reported around 1:45 p.m.,. and the cause remains under investigation, according to a Pittsfield Public Safety Department press release.

Firefighters from Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Township, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township assisted.

Tracy Davis can be reached at tdavis@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6856.

 

Jun 05, 2009

Gas line break forces evacuation of homes on Ann Arbor's south side

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Friday June 05, 2009, 8:35 AM

Residents of six homes on Ann Arbor's south side were evacuated after a construction crew struck a natural gas line Thursday afternoon, reports said.

A contractor with Carver Construction who was using a mini excavator struck and ruptured the natural gas line on Trowbridge Court at 2:30 p.m. The crews shut down their equipment and notified residents in the neighborhood.

Firefighters heard gas coming from the line when they were about 150 feet away and said the smell was noticeable, reports said.

Firefighters evacuated six people from their homes, and no one was injured. A potentially dangerous level of gas accumulated in one of the homes, which firefighters ventilated from underneath the structure, reports said.

Utility crews responded to the scene and controlled the leak by 4 p.m. Residents returned to their homes at about 4:40 p.m.


Jun 02, 2009

Updated: Fire destroys condominium in Ann Arbor

by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday June 02, 2009, 8:18 AM

Editor's note: Story has been updated to reflect that the residence was a condominium. It was originally described by fire officials as an apartment.

Fire destroyed a unit at the Chapel Hill Condominiums in northeast Ann Arbor on Monday night.
 

The Ann Arbor Fire Department reported it arrived at the building on Burbank, near Green Road, at around 9 p.m. They found heavy smoke, and the tenant standing in the front yard.

Firefighters said they brought a hose into the front door and encountered heavy flames and debris.

Every fire truck in the city was called to the scene. It took about an hour to put the fire out.

The cause remains under investigation. No other details were available this morning.


May 23, 2009

Ann Arbor Becomes First Fire Station in Michigan to Use Solar Energy

10/30/2007

The City of Ann Arbor has recently completed the first solar water heating system to be installed on a fire station in Michigan. This system uses solar energy to heat water for showers and other hot water needs at the fire station. This project is part of Ann Arbor’s City-wide goal to move to renewable energy for 30% of its energy needs by 2010.

The City of Ann Arbor, utilizing a $6,000 grant from the Michigan Energy Office, recently completed the installation of a $12,000 solar water heating system at the Fire Department Headquarters located at 111 N. Fifth Ave. in Ann Arbor. Solar water heaters have been identified as one of the most effective ways to utilize solar energy in Michigan. Besides the daily fire administration staff, seven firemen live at the station around the clock, cooking meals, taking showers and washing clothes. The station uses over 200 gallons of hot water a day. The solar water heating system is expected to save $600/year in natural gas costs. In May 2006, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a Green Energy Challenge Resolution requiring that all municipal operations be powered by 30% green energy by 2010 and that 20% of all energy used by the community be renewable energy by 2015.

Council sited the many benefits of renewable energy such as: stabilizing energy costs, stimulating the local economy, reducing air pollution, reducing global warming pollution and reducing reliance on imported energy sources. In July 2006, City Council, as part of the Green Energy Challenge, approved a resolution to implement the Ann Arbor 5,000 Solar Roofs program, with a goal of installing 5,000 solar water-heating systems in Ann Arbor by 2015.

This fire station solar water heating system is just the beginning of City commitments to move forward to meet the challenge of 30% renewable energy for its operations and demonstrate that solar energy does work in Michigan. The City has partnered with the Hands-On Museum, who will construct an exhibit in their museum next door to the fire station to teach visitors about solar water heating, how it works and why we need to start moving to renewable energy sources.

For more information, contact David Konkle at dkonkle@a2gov.org


May 15, 2009

3 people injured in Ypsilanti boarding house fire

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Friday May 15, 2009, 7:26 AM

Three people were injured in a fire at two-story home in the Ypsilanti this morning, officials said.

Ypsilanti boarding house fire injures 3


Firefighters responded to 1206 Washtenaw Ave. at about 2:15 a.m. and found smoke and flames shooting from the first floor, Lt. Scott Madison said.

Ypsilanti Police officers on the scene reported explosions coming from inside, likely caused by oxygen tanks, as they helped four residents evacuate, Madison said. A fifth resident jumped from a second-floor window, but was not injured.

Two people were taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center and a third was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital with what are believed to be non life-threatening injuries. The residents ranged in age from 18 to 63, officials said.

A firefighter was treated at the scene for an injured leg, Madison said.

The fire started in a first-floor bedroom and spread to the second floor and attic. The cause remains under investigation.

The structure, believed to be a boarding house, was a total loss. The Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting two residents with shelter.

Firefighters from Ypsilanti and Pittsfield townships, and the city of Ann Arbor assisted at the scene.


May 13, 2009

Ypsilanti firefighters extinguish small fire at abandoned factory

by John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News
Wednesday May 13, 2009, 5:38 PM

Ypsilanti firefighters quickly extinguished a small fire in an abandoned factory building at 103 S. River Street at about 5 p.m. today.

Callers alerted firefighters to smoke coming out of the windows of the building. Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said crews found as small fire in a former office area on the second floor.

Fire officials believe someone using the building for shelter probably started the fire to keep warm since there's no gas or electric service to the building, Ichesco said.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department also responded under an agreement with the city of Ypsilanti. Mutual aid also was requested from the townships of Superior, Pittsfield and Ypsilanti because the water mains to the area of the building are severed.

The building is in the Water Street redevelopment area, and the water mains were severed when it appeared the buildings would be torn down, Ichesco said.


May 13, 2009

 

Ann Arbor man dies while playing Russian roulette after night of drinking, police say

by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News
Wednesday May 13, 2009, 8:04 AM

Ann Arbor police say a 41-year-old man shot himself dead in what appears to have been a solitaire game of Russian roulette following a night of drinking with his friends.

Three friends of David Ryan told police they'd been drinking at The Blind Pig in downtown Ann Arbor Friday night and returned to the victim's house in the 1000 block of Westaire Way at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

They say they were sitting on the side porch of the house when Ryan, who was highly intoxicated, went to get his revolver. He stuck a bullet in the six-cylinder chamber and spun it around, then put the gun to his head behind his ear.

The friends told police they could see that the bullet was not in the firing position before he pulled the trigger. But then, with no explanation, the man pulled the trigger again and the gun fired, police said.

Detective Sgt. Richard Kinsey said alcohol and drugs were clearly a factor and are investigating how Ryan obtained the gun.

Lt. Mike Logghe said Ryan was kept on life support at University of Michigan Hospitals until Tuesday when his organs were donated to others.


May 12, 2009

Layoffs in Ann Arbor Fire Department could come early next year because of state revenue cuts

by Judy McGovern | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday May 12, 2009, 12:26 AM

Ann Arbor firefighters show off their equipment during an open house last year.

A reduction in state revenue could prompt Ann Arbor to lay off firefighters early next year.

City Administrator Roger Fraser Monday recommended that City Council members wait until January to see whether they need to make the cut to offset the $257,281 reduction in state revenue announced last week.

Fraser's two-year budget plan had called for eliminating 14 positions in the fire department in fiscal year 2010-11. If the move needs to be made earlier, Fraser said he'd recommend laying off nine firefighters, taking one truck out of service.

"Our approach in the coming year is to be extremely frugal," he said.

The city will operate with a near hiring freeze, filling only the most critical positions, Fraser said.

Governmental Consultant Services, Inc., where Profit is a director.

 

At a glance

• The City Council is expected to approve a budget Monday, May 18.

• The city of Ann Arbor's fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.

• The proposed budgets for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years call for reducing spending to $85 million and $82 million, respectively, to pull spending back in line with shrinking tax revenue.

• Revenue from real estate taxes is expected to shrink 1.2 percent in fiscal year 2009-10 and 5.2 percent in 2010-11.

• A detailed budget proposal is available on the city's Web site. Scroll down to the "proposed budget book" or follow this link, but be warned - it's a big PDF.

 


Although the fire department layoffs proposed for 2010-11 had drawn little public comment from City Council members, several expressed concern about the potentially accelerated schedule Monday.

 

Council Member Stephen Rapundalo and Mayor John Hieftje both asked for information about how the reductions would affect response time and public safety. Hieftje pressed for identifying another option.

In fact, other initiatives could make a difference.

Ann Arbor continues to talk with neighboring communities about a regional approach to fire services. Those talks could yield results that would influence the budget by year's end, Fraser said.

It's also possible than more city police officers than expected will take an early-retirement offer, he said. That would reduce costs. Some 16 to 18 officers are eligible, but fewer were expected to leave the department.

Other changes in the police department occupied a good deal of the council's time Monday.

Downtown beat cops

Police Chief Barnett Jones fielded questions about the elimination of downtown beat cops and half a dozen community-standards officers, responsible for parking and other code enforcement.

"We got spoiled but times have changed," Jones said of the once 190-member department that allowed dedicated downtown officers. The police department now has 148 sworn officers.

"The changes we're making let us keep our patrol exactly as it is. Those are the priorities: patrol, dispatch and detectives," he said. "What I need to do is keep our level of strength up on the street and in investigation."

While the arrangement downtown will be different, there should be no net loss of police presence, Jones said. "Instead of six officers the downtown business people will see many others."

All patrol officers are to spend on hour out of their cars on foot, or on a bike, every shift, he said. Many of those hours will be spent in the downtown.

Parking revenue

In addition, patrol officers will write more tickets for parking violations.

Numerous council members wondered whether the sworn officers would issue as many citations as the civilian community-standards officers. The budget anticipates $2.1 million in revenue, unchanged from this year.

Jones assured city officials that the patrol officers would do the work.

Council members also appeared skeptical about a still-evolving plan to install parking meters that would be operated outside the Downtown Development Authority parking system.

Maps of the proposed new metered streets have not been available to the News or, as of Monday, to City Council members. A presentation Monday showed locations streets near the University of Michigan hospitals as well as west of downtown around YMCA and north of downtown around Depot Street.

The DDA's plan has been to steer drivers into parking structures in town or into park-and-ride lots outside the central business district, said Council Member Sandi Smith. The proposed new on-street meters seem at odds with that strategy, she said.

Council Member Carsten Hohnke noted that the targeted areas are in "near downtown" neighborhoods. "Meters suggest commercial activity nearby. We want to guard against commercial spillover."

City staffers suggested the meters could provide relief for neighborhoods clogged by commuters parking. But the goal is generating new revenue - roughly $350,000 a year. And whatever their reservations, no council members called for abandoning the idea.

Judy McGovern can be reached at 734-994-6863 or jmcgovern@annarbornews.com.


May 07, 2009

Woman rescued from water after kayak overturns on Huron River in Ann Arbor

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday May 07, 2009, 8:31 AM

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a woman from the Huron River after her kayak overturned near Gallup Park Wednesday evening, officials said.

Firefighters responded to several calls about an overturned kayak in the river at about 5:40 p.m. and found a 19-year-old woman out of her kayak and unable to get to safety, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

Other kayakers were dragging her to shore and firefighters pulled her out of the water.

She was treated by Huron Valley Ambulance paramedics and released.


Apr 27, 2009

Updated: Young woman rescued from Huron River in Ann Arbor

by David Jesse | The Ann Arbor News
Monday April 27, 2009, 7:08 AM

An Ann Arbor firefighter fastens a line to an unidentified woman who was rescued Sunday afternoon from the Huron River.

An afternoon swim turned into a long wait on a log in the middle of the Huron River for a 22-year-old-woman on Sunday.
 

According to witnesses, the woman and a male friend dived into the river for a swim. The fast moving current swept the woman down the river. She was able to grab a hold of a log and wait for help.

"It was moving pretty fast for sure," said Kevin Karr, the principal of Ann Arbor's King Elementary School, who happened to be walking past during the rescue.
A kayaker was able to get a life jacket out the woman.

The first attempt by the Ann Arbor Fire Department to rescue her was unsuccessful. Firefighters had to go around to the other bank of the river for the second attempt, which was successful. They used ropes to help get out in the river.

The fire department and campus police didn't have any other information about the identity of the woman.

The incident happened about 2 p.m. in the river, off Nichols Drive, west of the railroad viaduct, the fire department said in a press release. A crowd of spectators gathered to watch the rescue.

David Jesse can be reached at djesse@annarbornews.com or at 734-994-6937


Apr 25, 2009

Woman injured when part of tree falls on her in Ann Arbor nature area

by Tom Gantert | The Ann Arbor News
Friday April 24, 2009, 2:11 PM

A large portion of a tree trunk cracked and fell on a woman who was walking in an Ann Arbor nature area Friday afternoon, seriously injuring her, authorities said.

Ann Arbor firefighters and University of Michigan police were called about 12:30 p.m. to the Cedar Bend Nature Area in the 1700 block of Hubbard where they found a woman with a tree on her back pushing her chest into her legs in a sitting position.

Authorities said she was in extreme pain.

"It was the craziest thing I had ever seen," said fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

Vogel said a witness heard a large crack and then heard cries coming out from the wooded trails.

Vogel said it took about five minutes for firefighters to use a chainsaw to remove the tree.

He said the woman, whose identity wasn't immediately available, was taken via ambulance to the University of Michigan Hospital. Her condition was unknown, Vogel said.

Tom Gantert can be reached at tgantert@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6701


Apr 23, 2009

Fire damages home on Ann Arbor's southeast side

by Amalie Nash | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday April 23, 2009, 1:12 PM

A fire gutted the basement of a home on Ann Arbor's southeast side just after noon today, officials said.

A firefighter works near the doorway of a home on Manchester Road.

A passerby in the 2200 block of Manchester Road called 911 to report smoke coming from the home.

When firefighters arrived, Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard said they saw heavy smoke coming from the front door.

The fire appears to have started in the basement, he said. The heat from the blaze damaged the floors above.

The residents weren't home at the time, and no one was injured, Hubbard said. They won't be able to return to the home because of the damage; it's not clear how long they'll be displaced.

A damage estimate is not yet available. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Hubbard said every firefighter on duty responded to the fire, and units from nearby municipalities covered the city's stations.


Apr 18, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters rescue two kayakers from Huron River

by John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News
Saturday April 18, 2009, 7:23 PM

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a man and a woman from a railroad bridge pylon in the Huron River after their kayaks overturned Saturday, fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

Two other people whose kayaks overturned were able to get themselves out of the water, Vogel said.

The firefighters first were called to the University of Michigan's Mitchell Field on Fuller Road at about 2:30 p.m., where they found four empty kayaks and broken paddles, but no people, Vogel said.

The firefighters then began searching upstream until they found the two people on a concrete railroad bridge pylon near Nichols Drive, Vogel said.

Firefighters had to go onto the railroad bridge, lower a ladder and help the people up the ladder, Vogel said.

The kayakers were treated by personnel from Huron Valley Ambulance, Vogel said. He was not sure if they were taken to a hospital.

Ann Arbor Recreation Department workers found the other two kayakers Vogel said. The kayaks had been rented from the Ann Arbor Recreation Department, he said.


Apr 14, 2009

Updated: Ann Arbor, police unions agree to early-outs instead of layoffs; fire department would see 14 positions cut in proposed 2010-11 budget

by Judy McGovern | The Ann Arbor News
Monday April 13, 2009, 10:54 PM

The City of Ann Arbor and the unions representing city police have reached an agreement that will reduce the headcount in the department via early retirements rather than layoffs.

The agreement reached Monday will let 16 to 18 police officers take an "early out."
The plan will cost the city an estimated $4.8 million, said City Administrator Roger Fraser. The payback is four to five years, he said.

The eligible officers are veterans at or near top pay grades. Officers must be within two years of normal retirement to be eligible, Fraser said.

The projected $4.8 million is based on estimated payments of vacation and sick time, payments into the pension system and the early-out incentive under which the city provides two additional service years to the employees while computing pensions. Employees also have an option to buy a third year.

The police department faced the prospect of having to lay off 14 police officers and a reorganization that called for demoting a number of lieutenants and sergeants.
In the "bumping" that would occur under that plan, the department would lose officers hired in the last five to seven years, Fraser said. With early-outs, those officers will be retained while higher-paid senior officers leave.

The staff reductions come as the city faces the first decrease in property tax revenue in memory.

And they won't be the last.

Budget recommendations in a two-year plan Fraser outlined for the City Council Monday call for eliminating 14 positions in the fire department in fiscal 2010-2011.
The situation in the fire department differs from that of the police, said Fraser.

The fire department is already flatter, without a corps of senior officers. Assuming those staff cuts are made - after July 1, 2010 - the reductions would come through layoffs, the city administrator said.

"With everyone essentially the same rank, there wouldn't be the same kind of savings we get from offering early-outs to senior members of the police department. So the cost of an early-out program isn't justified."

The $4.8 million for the police buyout will come from the city's $16 million general fund surplus.

That fund will also be tapped for other one-time expenses including $1.7 million set aside to cover Pfizer's appeal of its property taxes for the now-closed research facility on Plymouth Road. The company may or may not get that full amount when the state Tax Tribunal rules in the case.

The appropriations in Fraser's budget proposal would take the fund reserve to around $9 million. That would be at the low end of city officials' target of having a reserve equal to 12-15 percent of the general fund budget.

The current year's general fund budget is $90.9 million. That includes some non-recurring costs like the $600,000 purchase of the Huron Street property now occupied by Tios' Mexican Cafe.

Fraser's proposal for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years calls for reducing spending to $85 million and $82 million, respectively, to pull spending back in line with shrinking tax revenue.

Revenue from real estate taxes is expected to shrink 1.2 percent in fiscal year 2009-10 and 5.2 percent in 2010-11.

Council members are expected to adopt spending plans for the next two fiscal years on May 18. Although city officials are required to approve a budget for each fiscal year, they plan in two-year cycles.

Judy McGovern can be reached at 734-994-6863 or jmcgovern@annarbornews.com.


Apr 01, 2009

No injuries reported in Ann Arbor house fire

by Dave Gershman | The Ann Arbor News
Wednesday April 01, 2009, 7:06 PM

A fire heavily damaged a home in the 800 block of East Kingsley Street in Ann Arbor on Wednesday afternoon.

Ann Arbor firefighters arrived around 3:30 p.m. to find flames had engulfed the porch and front of the home. Nobody was injured, according to a news release.

The home had multiple apartments with 11 tenants, who have been relocated.

Firefighters knocked down the flames in about 15 minutes. The fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damages to the home, and $10,000 in damages to belongings inside the home.

The cause of the fire was being investigated.


Mar 26, 2009

Fire set in University of Michigan residence hall

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday March 26, 2009, 11:49 AM

Students were evacuated from a University of Michigan residence hall early this morning after a small fire was intentionally set in the hallway of a lower floor, campus police reported.

The fire was reported at 1:38 a.m. in West Quad. The residence hall's sprinkler system extinguished the fire quickly, said Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the campus police.

Brown said fire damage to the floor's carpet and the door of a nearby room was minor. Several rooms were damaged by water.

U-M police are investigating along with the university's fire marshal.


Mar 24, 2009

University of Michigan police say person hit by train near Mitchell Field in Ann Arbor

by John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday March 24, 2009, 5:25 PM

A train hit a person in the area of the University of Michigan's Mitchell Field on Fuller Road Tuesday afternoon, U-M spokeswoman Diane Brown said. The victim, a male, has been taken to University of Michigan Medical Center, Brown said. Brown had no information yet about the age or condition of the victim. U-M Police received the call at 4:40 p.m., Brown said.


Mar 13, 2009

Update: Firefighters say clothing draped over lamp likely sparked apartment fire

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Friday March 13, 2009, 8:13 AM

Officials with the Ann Arbor Fire Department said clothing draped over a lamp likely sparked a fire that forced residents from their multi-unit apartment house near downtown this morning.

Firefighters were called to 521 N. Division St. just before 8 a.m. by residents who were awakened by smoke detectors, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

Smoke and small flames were seen coming from the second floor on arrival, and firefighters helped two men inside to safety, Vogel said.
They were being evaluated by paramedics this morning but did not report any immediate injuries. Four other people also fled the building because of the fire.

Vogel said firefighters contained the blaze to the bedroom and determined it started at or near a lamp that had a pair of pants draped over it.

Damage estimates were not immediately available.

Division Street was closed between Kingsley and Detroit streets for about an hour.


Mar 09, 2009

Custodian dies at University of Michigan plant building; foul play not suspected

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Monday March 09, 2009, 11:51 AM

A University of Michigan custodian was found dead inside the university's Plant Building Services facility shortly after reporting for work this morning, police said.

The body of the 31-year-old Raemal Durham, of Milan, was found at about 6 a.m. inside the building, 109 E. Madison St., police spokeswoman Diane Brown said.

There were no signs of trauma or foul play. An autopsy is pending.

Brown said the woman reported for work sometime after 5 a.m. Further details were not immediately available.


Mar 02, 2009

Blaze damages unoccupied house in Ypsilanti

by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News
Sunday March 01, 2009, 10:00 AM

An unoccupied house on Ypsilanti's south side was heavily damaged by fire Friday night.

City firefighters were called to 1004 Jefferson St. at 10:26 p.m. and discovered heavy smoke and flames.

Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor each sent one truck to assist, and all off-duty city fire personnel were called in to battle the blaze in the two-story rental structure.

The kitchen and basement stairway were destroyed and the rest of the house received heavy heat and smoke damage, according to Capt. Dan Cain.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. No other properties were affected. Firefighters were on the scene for an hour and 40 minutes


Feb 26, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters rescue dog that fell into a manhole

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday February 26, 2009, 2:39 PM

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a dog that fell down an uncovered manhole on the on the city's west side Wednesday and said the manhole appeared to be booby-trapped.

Firefighters were called to the nature area behind Haisley Elementary School at about noon on a report of a dog that fell into the manhole while the owner was walking the dog, Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

The owner said the hole was covered in leaves and brush, and the manhole cover was hidden nearby, Vogel said.

Firefighters Robert Tudor, Craig Sidelinger and Lt. Mark Edman lowered a ladder into the 8-foot-deep hole and pulled the 4-year-old Labrador Retriever out. The dog wasn't injured.

Vogel said the city's water department welded the cover to the hole to ensure it wouldn't happen again.


Feb 17, 2009

Fire destroys van and hundreds of phone books

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday February 17, 2009, 12:44 PM

A van containing hundreds of new phone books was destroyed by a fire in a neighborhood on the east side of Ann Arbor Monday afternoon, officials said.

Two employees were delivering the books in the 2200 block of Glendaloch Road when they saw smoke and flames coming from under the van just after 1:30 p.m., Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Chuck Hubbard said.

The Dodge 2500 van, which contained more than 200 books, was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. No one was injured, but the van was deemed a total loss.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined.


Feb 10, 2009

Dow Building evacuated, closed temporarily at University of Michigan after electrical incident Monday

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday February 10, 2009, 10:08 AM

An electrician was injured after he stuck a screwdriver into an electrical box at the Herbert H. Dow Building on the University of Michigan's North Campus Monday morning, police said.
 

The 67-year-old contractor, from Milan, tried to open the box in the penthouse machine room with the screwdriver when he touched the wires about 11:20 a.m., U-M police Lt. Robert Neumann said.

The box caught fire and activated the fire alarm. The fire stopped once firefighters cut power to the building, which was evacuated.

The building remained closed for the day because the fire affected the ventilation system, Neumann said. It was expected to reopen this morning.

The man suffered minor injuries and did not need medical treatment.


Jan 30, 2009

Ann Arbor firefighters practice an icy rescue

by Alan Warren | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday January 29, 2009, 4:44 PM

Ann Arbor Firefighter Michael DeCrane, back, helps to rescue firefighter Phil Smith, front, from a hole in the ice during an ice rescue training exercise at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor Thursday.
Ann Arbor firefighter Patty Hopkins helps to rescue firefighter Tim Rugg (right) from icy water during an ice rescue training exercise.

Jan 01, 2009

Update: Ann Arbor fire damage set at $550,000

by Tracy Davis and Steve Pepple | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday January 01, 2009, 7:48 PM

Jerry Heller of Belfor Property Restoration works on the second-floor of a burned out building at the Greenway Park Apartment in Pittsfield Township on Thursday.
A fire forced residents to leap from two-story Pittsfield Township apartment building balconies to escape in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.

According to the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety reports and the Washtenaw County Red Cross, at least two people were taken to the hospital.

Condition reports were not available Thursday evening, but Deputy Fire Director Al D'Agostino said injuries appeared to have resulted from jumping.

One person was also rescued from the burning building by firefighters, he said.

An icy Christmas wreath hangs from the balcony of a Pittsfield Township apartment building that was heavily damaged by an early morning fire Thursday
The fire displaced residents in 16 apartments in the Greenway Park Apartments on Golfside Road, just south of Washtenaw Avenue. The complex is operated by CMB Property Management; officials with the company could not be reached Thursday.

Damage was estimated at $550,000. The cause of the fire was still under investigation late Thursday; D'Agostino said investigators would get a closer look
Friday once steam and smoke had fully cleared out. He said investigators had identified a probable area of origin.

Firefighters reported they found flames visible from the first and second floors of the building when they arrived after getting the alarm at 12:33 a.m. Thursday. They called for assistance from the fire departments in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Saline.

At dusk Thursday, the building stood roped off with yellow caution tape. Ice filled the parking area as 6-degree temperatures froze the water used to put out the fire.

Lights shone from other buildings in the dense complex, but the affected building stood empty. Any curious bystanders were long since driven indoors.

Anindite Ghosh, who lives in the front part of the complex, said she smelled smoke shortly after midnight.

"We heard lots of sirens and ambulances," she said. "I opened the balcony door and saw lots of smoke against the sky. One of the (buildings) was burning."

Kris Thompson of the Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross said the agency assisted two families displaced by the fire.


View Larger Map
Workers from Belfor Property Restoration of Troy were at the scene sealing up the burned out apartment building.

Paul Clarke, senior estimator for Belfor, said residents of eight of the apartments could likely return to their homes once electricity and heat was restored. Of the remaining unit, he said, four apartments sustained major fire damage and four others had heavy smoke damage.

"It's a pretty sad way for some of these people to start the New Year," Clarke said.

Tracy Davis can be reached at tdavis@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6856.

 


Jan 01, 2009

Apartment residents jump from balconies to escape fire in Pittsfield Township

by Steve Pepple | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday January 01, 2009, 9:42 AM

Residents jumped from the balconies of a two-story apartment building in Pittsfield Township to escape a New Year's Day fire that that broke out shortly after midnight.

At least two people were transported to area hospitals after they were injured, and three others were treated at the scene, according to the Pittsfield Township Fire Department. One person was rescued from the burning building by firefighters, said Deputy Fire Director Al D'Agostino.

The fire displaced residents of 16 apartments in the Greenway Park Apartments on Golfside Road, just south of Washtenaw Avenue. The complex is operated by CMB Property Management.

Damage was estimated at $550,000, D'Agostino said in a press release. The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Firefighters saw flames from the first and second floors of the building when they arrived after getting the alarm at 12:33 a.m. today. They called for assistance from fire departments in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Saline.

The Washtenaw County Chapter of American Red Cross was assisting displaced residents.

Workers from Belfor Property Restoration of Troy were at the scene this morning sealing up the burned out apartment building.

Paul Clarke, senior estimator for Belfor, said residents of eight of the apartments could propably return to their homes once electricity and heat are restored. Of the remaining unit, he said, four apartments sustained major fire damage and four others had heavy smoke damage.

"It's a pretty sad way for some of these people to start the New Year," Clarke said.


Dec 30, 2008

Fraternity house flooded, burglarized

U-M students will need new homes
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
BY ART AISNER
The Ann Arbor News

About 50 University of Michigan students may be forced to find new housing when they return from the holiday break because their fraternity house was severely damaged by broken water pipes over the weekend.

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Ann Arbor police say the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house had also been burglarized, but it was unclear if the incidents were linked.

Police reported they were called about 3:30 p.m. Saturday to the house at 556 S. State St. for a possible break-in and found water cascading down the stairways and running through main hallways.

Officers found nearly every bedroom in the structure had been broken into and they suspect numerous items were missing. They won't know for certain until residents can provide an inventory list upon their return from winter break, Detective Sgt. Jim Stephenson said.

It appeared the burglar used a fire escape to enter a second-story bedroom window, which was shattered, Stephenson said.

Police tape still lined the fire escape leading up to the now boarded window Monday afternoon.

Pipes in a second-story bathroom and the first-floor kitchen ruptured, and leaked water down to the basement, reports said. It is unclear if the pipes were damaged by burglars or if they burst from weather conditions once the property's interior was exposed to the elements, Stephenson said.

The damage was severe enough to cause ceilings in some rooms to collapse.

City fire officials responded to the scene and asked building inspectors to condemn the property as soon as possible because of a safety risk, reports said.

City building inspectors were to examine the house Monday to determine if it must be closed because of the severity of the damage. Building department officials did not return calls from The News on Monday.

Fraternity members last reported being in the house last Tuesday evening. Possible residents and a contractor at the house Monday declined to comment.

University officials are helping the fraternity contact its members and provide assistance with housing.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Ann Arbor police at 734-994-2878.

Art Aisner can be reached at aaisner@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6823.


Dec 29, 2008

Sunday Q&A: Some safety tips for those wintertime heaters

by John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News
Sunday December 28, 2008, 12:59 AM

Winter is a time when many people use fireplaces, wood burning stoves and gas or electric space heaters. The News talked to Ann Arbor Fire Inspector Allan Perry about how to use those items safely.

 

Allan Perry, Ann Arbor Fire Inspector.

Q: What are the biggest dangers associated with fireplaces and wood burning stoves?
A:
Obviously carbon monoxide is a main one. It's odorless, colorless, deadly. A wood burning stove - if it's not properly maintained, cleaned and inspected - you can have a fire in the flue area that could spread to the rest of the structure. Over time, they tend to develop cracks that allow fire to get outside of its container. Anything like that needs to be inspected.

 

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
A:
Generally, most people will describe something like they are coming down with the flu. They may leave the home and go shopping, and all of a sudden they feel better. They maybe go back (home) and don't feel good again. That would be a sign right there. If they have a symptom like that, they need to call 911 right away.

Q: What are some other safety tips for wood stoves or fireplaces?
A:
The big thing would be to have a good carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector to give you that early warning. Make sure that you use dry, seasoned wood, a hard wood preferably. Pine will allow that creosote to build up in the flue. Don't overload the firebox with wood. You don't want to put garbage in there, or paper. Don't use it to get rid of things. I can't stress enough the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

Q: What should people know about small gas or electric heaters?
A:
We don't recommend any of these things being left unattended or misused. We can even go to the situation of someone tries to use the stove to heat the home. Misuse of appliances is bad. Also, don't have them around combustibles. Talk to a professional, and make sure you are getting a unit that is matched for the space that you want to heat. Get a new unit. They have safety features. Especially with electric space heaters, you don't want to get them plugged in with other things and overload the circuit.

Q: How can people know they are getting a product that meets good safety standards?
A:
If it's something that you are going to purchase, I'd be asking an expert. We'd be looking for something like the Underwriters Laboratories label. Most reputable places that you would go to purchase these things would carry that type of unit. There should be a label on the unit and on the packaging.

John Mulcahy can be reached at jmulcahy@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6858.

 

 
COMMENTS (1)Post a comment
Posted by bluebear on 12/28/08 at 12:06PM

Good advice from a good guy. Our Fire Department has been ravaged by the City administration, forced to cut, cut, cut. It is heartening to know that they still have excellent people doing hard work and getting the message out to the public.


Dec 23, 2008

Women lose beloved dog in house fire

They also lost all their belongings
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
BY SUSAN L. OPPAT
The Ann Arbor News

Their clothes and furniture will need to be replaced. The woman and her mother have to find another place to live after their townhouse was gutted by fire.

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But a neighbor worried Monday that it will be the loss of Scout, the women's beloved black Labrador retriever, that will hit them the hardest.

Ann Arbor firefighters performed CPR on the dog after they found him lying under the Christmas tree in the only corner of the house not in flames, but the effort was in vain.

The women, whose names were not available Monday afternoon, arrived at their rental home at 2434 Pinecrest Ave. about 90 minutes after neighbors called to report the fire at 12:40 p.m.

The fire was caused by a welding torch used on frozen pipes, fire officials said.

Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the small ranch was gutted, and the women lost all their belongings. Damage was estimated at $150,000 to the house and $100,000 to its contents.

The Red Cross was assisting.

Neighbor Samantha Banda said the dog was "a big part of their family.'' She called the women wonderful neighbors and said they repaid her help pushing their car out of a snowbank with a plate of homemade tamales.

She and other neighbors were discussing Monday how to help the women. Anyone who wants to assist can contact the Red Cross at 734-971-5300.

Susan Oppat can be reached at soppat@annarbornews.com or at 734-994-6679.


Dec 22, 2008

Ann Arbor firefighters rescue resident from apartment fire

by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News
Monday December 22, 2008, 10:48 AM

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a resident from a fire that may have started in a furnace room of the Briarcrest condominiums at 275 Briarcrest on Sunday.


 

No one was hurt, but the 6 p.m. fire spread into three apartments, causing extensive damage to all three, and smoke damage to adjoining units, according to Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

Damage was estimated at around $100,000. The cause is not yet determined, but the focus is on a first-floor furnace room, Vogel said.

The complex is located off Oakbrook Drive and South Main Street near Briarwood mall.

Firefighters from Pittsfield, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor Township and Scio Township were called to assist. The Washtenaw County chapter of The American Red Cross assisted displaced tenants


Dec 20, 2008

Ann Arbor firefighters rescue dog, cat from blaze

by Liz Cobbs | The Ann Arbor News
Saturday December 20, 2008, 4:32 PM

Ann Arbor Fire Lt. Steve Creger gives oxygen to a small dog that was rescued from a fire in a condominium in the 500 block of Liberty Point Saturday afternoon.

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a dog and cat from a burning condominium this afternoon.

Firefighters were called to the 500 block of Liberty Point Drive shortly after noon.
 

Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said the residents weren't home at the time.

When they arrived, firefighters found flames coming from the floor in the dining room. They went into the basement and discovered the fire was between the basement and first floor. The dining room floor had to be torn up to finish extinguishing the fire.

Firefighters searching the home found a small dog and cat that had smoke inhalation, Cook said. The pets were taken to the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital on West Liberty Street, where they were in critical but stable condition, Cook said.

There was heavy smoke damage throughout the condo, and units on both sides had minor smoke damage. Cook said damage to the condo was estimated at $40,000.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

 

 
COMMENTS (2)Post a comment
Posted by sniffydogs on 12/20/08 at 6:10PM

Thanks to the Ann Arbor Firefighters for saving the animals!

Posted by ccflymedic on 12/20/08 at 6:32PM

I know what the "Skills" means on the Ann Arbor fire patch.... Good work AAFD!!!


Dec 01, 2008


 

Ann Arbor News

Downed power lines close M-14 ramps

 

The M-14 on- and off-ramps to Main Street in Ann Arbor were closed for about two hours this morning because of downed power lines just south of the expressway, city fire department officials said.

The interchanges were closed shortly after 6 a.m. and reopened about 8 a.m.

Portions of Main Street and Huron River Drive were blocked off. Expressway traffic was diverted to the Miller Road/Maple Road exit.

The lines were down probably because of the snowy weather, authorities said.

DTE repair crews were called in to fix the problem, Ann Arbor police said.

No other problems were reported on area roads and freeways this morning as a result of the snow that fell overnight. About 2.7 inches was reported in the Ann Arbor area.


Nov 22, 2008

Shots fired in early-morning dispute

by David Jesse | The Ann Arbor News
Saturday November 22, 2008, 9:18 AM

Two people are in the hospital following a dispute early Saturday morning that included shots being fired, Ann Arbor Police said.

Around 1:25 a.m. a man who was bleeding and carrying a handgun showed up at an apartment building in the 700 block of Miller Avenue, police said.
 

Police received calls reporting shots being fired on the first and fourth floor of the building. As officers arrived on scene, they heard a gunshot and went into the building.

At a fourth-floor apartment - where they had responded a week earlier for an assault - they saw blood outside, a 9 millimeter shell, the door kicked in and a bullet hole in the door.

Police said the suspect had entered the apartment and threatened his ex-girlfriend, who lives there, and her new boyfriend. As the new boyfriend climbed out a window and attempted to use a fire escape to flee the building, he fell at least three stories to the ground. He was taken to the hospital with "substantial injuries," police said.

The suspect in the shooting was apprehended and also taken to the hospital with injuries suffered before the incident.

No further details were released Saturday morning.

 

Nov 20, 2008

Furnace Fire

 

The Ann Arbor Fire Department quickly put out a fire in the furnace at the Windermere Park Apartments clubhouse, office and fitness center at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

When they arrived at the complex at 2820 Windwood Drive, smoke was coming from the center. The fire was contained to the furnace room, but smoke filled the entire structure.

Damage was estimated at $15,000


Nov 08, 2008

'Off-duty' heroes save a life at Ann Arbor Ice Cube

by Liz Cobbs | The Ann Arbor News
Friday November 07, 2008, 9:07 PM

Four off-duty firefighters saved the life of a 43-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while playing hockey at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube last weekend.

Pittsfield Township firefighters Will Graham and Jim Walker, Scio Township firefighter Dan Burke and Ann Arbor firefighter John Maguire were all on the same hockey team playing against another team on Sunday around 9:30 p.m.

Graham said they were about six minutes into the game when a player on the opposite team shot a puck, landed on his back and didn't get up.

"I skated over to him," Graham recalled. "He gave a laugh-snore, and from my experience, that was a sign that he was going into cardiac arrest."

Reporter Liz Cobbs can be reached at lcobbs@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6810.


Ann Arbor Police Officer Patrick Maguire, who was also on the team, witnessed the player falling. Maguire said he called his brother, John, to come over and help. Walker also joined him.

The firefighters assessed his condition. The man had stopped breathing and had no pulse.

John Maguire said he started compressions on the man's chest while someone called 911 and an Ice Cube employee retrieved an automated external defibrillator, a device that can be used during a sudden cardiac arrest.

"We hooked the AED up to him and shocked him once," Graham said. "With a combination of compressions and the AED, we got a pulse back ... and he started breathing on his own."

By the time the ambulance arrived, Graham said the man was talking, breathing on his own and had a good pulse rate.

The firefighters said they didn't personally know the man they had helped.

Pittsfield Deputy Fire Director Al D'Agostino credited the group effort of the firefighters and the AED in quickly helping the player.

 

 
COMMENTS (4)Post a comment
Posted by meipala392 on 11/08/08 at 8:45AM

this is the kind of news we love to hear. Hats off to our wonderful firefighters and thank god they were there to save that man's life.

Posted by yourdad on 11/08/08 at 10:24AM

Great job guys!! BTW... who won? lol Everybody that reads this should ask themselves if there is an AED at their workplace.

Posted by 751 on 11/08/08 at 10:37AM

HUGE credit to The Cube for having the foresight to keep on AED on-site. Bravo!

Posted by huh7891 on 11/08/08 at 10:59AM

Wonderful job everyone! Nice to hear a positive outcome. Hope the player makes a quick recovery.


Oct 22, 2008

Firefighters battled a blaze at an apartment building in the south end of Ann Arbor.

 

The fire burned into a two-story building of the Lake Village apartments, located off Main Street.

 

Firefighters from the Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti worked with the Ann Arbor Fire Department on what was considered the equivalent of a three-alarm fire.

 

Police said between six and 12 apartments were directly damaged by the fire and another unknown amount were damaged by smoke.

 

Residents were evacuated and Ann Arbor police said no one was injured in the fire.

 

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but officials said they determined that the fire began in an upstairs apartment.


Oct 22, 2008

Update: Fire damages 10 apartments at Lake Village, cause not yet known

by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News
Wednesday October 22, 2008, 6:09 PM

With his golden retriever puppy on a leash, John Beach watched as fire engulfed his Ann Arbor apartment building this afternoon.

He figured there wouldn't be much left - and what was still there would be water-damaged.

"But we're all OK," he said with a shrug. "When you almost lose your son to respiratory failure three weeks ago, this isn't even on the scale."

A fire heavily damaged an apartment building at Lake Village Apartments on Ann Arbor's south side Wednesday afternoon.

As the fire raged, his wife, Sharon, was with their 22-year-old son, Zach, at the University of Michigan Hospital, where Zach was dealing with complications from lifelong spinal muscular atrophy.

"Zach told me (on the phone) that he wanted me to save a picture his best friend had painted of him walking, and he's never walked before," said Beach, his voice breaking for the first time. "That's all he wanted."

It's not known yet what caused the fire, which damaged or destroyed 10 units of the Lake Village Apartments off South Main Street between Briarwood Mall and Busch's grocery store. No injuries were reported.

A crowd of people stood outside the complex, watching as several fire departments helped battle the blaze as it quickly spread from one unit to the next. The smoke could be seen for blocks away.

DeAunderia Byant said that at about 2:30 p.m., she smelled chemicals in the air as she was leaving the complex.

"The next thing I knew, there was a big thing of smoke coming up, and then we saw the flames," she said.

Ann Arbor Fire Chief Sam Hopkins said that considering the fire began during the daytime, it was surprising no one called sooner.

"When we got here, fire was coming up through the roof, and we were fighting an uphill battle after that," he said. "The wind was a big factor - a big detriment."

When firefighters arrived, damage was heaviest in an upper-floor corner balcony, and flames shot through the roof and were quickly spreading. Firefighters worked in the interior of the building, but were forced to leave as parts threatened to collapse.

Hopkins said that with so much destruction, it will be difficult to determine the cause of the fire.

Reporter Jo Collins Mathis can be reached at 734-994-6849 or jmathis@annarbornews.com.


University of Michigan student Anthony Lupa said he and his wife were eating lunch in their dining room, which looks out at the building. They noticed a few people knocking on windows in the building, and spotted just a little smoke coming out of the vents.

"It burst into flames very, very quickly," Lupa said.

Lupa called 911 at 2:38 p.m.. and learned the fire department was already on the way. He then called his neighbor, who owned the top corner apartment.

Management ordered media off the property and declined to comment. The Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross was there within about an hour, setting up in the office, ready to give aid to the suddenly homeless.

The Beach family, who have renters' insurance, had just bought new medical equipment for Zach. Beach assumed it was all ruined. They lived on the ground floor apartment because it's wheelchair-accessible.

Beach said he'll stay at the hospital tonight, and will stay with relatives and friends after that. The family loves living at Lake Village, he said, and hopes to return one day soon.

 

Oct 21, 2008

University of Michigan dorm fire displaces about 100 students

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday October 21, 2008, 7:24 AM

Roughly 100 University of Michigan students were placed in temporary housing after a fire at the Mary Markley Residence Hall Monday night, officials said.

Ann Arbor firefighters responded to the dormitory at 1503 Washington Heights at about 10:30 p.m. and were told of fire in room 6215 by U-M police officers at the scene, Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said.

The campus officers had already evacuated about 70 students and no one was injured.

The sprinkler system contained the fire to the sixth-floor room and firefighters quickly put it out, Vogel said. Water and smoke damage affected roughly 50 rooms and students were not allowed to return.

Damage estimates were not available this morning.

The dorm, built in 1959, houses more than 1,100 students but many were not there Monday due to mid-term break.

The cause is unknown and remains under investigation by U-M police


Oct 17, 2008
Ann Arbor News Man injured in fall from roof Advertisement     A 23-year-old Canton Township man was injured after falling from the roof of a fraternity house while trying to help a friend find his shoes, Ann Arbor police said. Police responded to the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity house at 1319 Cambridge Road shortly after 2 a.m
Oct 16, 2008
Ann Arbor News

Man likely died

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of natural causes

A man found dead inside his Ann Arbor home Tuesday likely died of natural causes, police said this morning.

The 50-year-old man had multiple symptoms of a serious heart ailment that were found during an autopsy Wednesday, Detective Sgt. Jim Stephenson said.

His name is not being released pending family notification.

Officers and firefighters forced open the door to his home in the 3100 block of Charing Cross Road at about 2 p.m. and it appeared he had been dead for at least a few days, officials said.

The man's dog was also found dead, and an autopsy of the pet is pending as a precaution, Stephenson said.


Oct 06, 2008

Daily Police Beat: Man injured in fall from Ann Arbor bar balcony while attempting stunt

by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News
Monday October 06, 2008, 8:55 AM

A Birmingham man is in critical condition this morning at the University of Michigan Medical Center after falling from the second-story balcony of a downtown Ann Arbor bar while apparently attempting a stunt, police said.

The 30-year-old man suffered a fractured skull and other serious injuries after landing head-first on the concrete outside Mitch's Place, 1220 S. University Ave. about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, Detective Sgt. Richard Kinsey said.

Witness reports indicate the man attempted to slide down the railing of a stairway from the balcony.

The first officers to arrive at the scene said a large crowd of people was surrounding the man, who was unresponsive and lying in a large pool of blood.

The officers determined he was breathing and hooked up their automated external defibrillator but did not need to use it.
He was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

Police estimated he fell roughly 18 feet. They confirmed he had been drinking at the bar, but are awaiting tests result to determine his level of intoxication. Kinsey said no foul play is suspected and the incident remains under investigation.


Oct 06, 2008

Stop, drop and roll, the Ann Arbor fire department holds an open house

by Alan Warren | The Ann Arbor News
Sunday October 05, 2008, 7:26 PM

Amelia Moshier of the Ann Arbor Fire Department tries to get Leila Durrie, 23 months old, of Ann Arbor to learn how to stop, drop and roll during the Fire Department Open House in Ann Arbor on Sunday, October 5, 2008.

Sep 11, 2008

Emergency crews set to reopen Huron Street after chemical spill

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News September 11, 2008 13:44PM

Categories: Traffic

Authorities expect to reopen a portion of Huron Street and the southside sidewalk near Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor within the hour, officials said.

Members of the Ann Arbor Fire Department's HAZMAT team determined a chemical spilled there was freon. It was in a parking lot between the Performance Network and National City Bank shortly after noon, Assistant Ann Arbor Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski said.

The spill occurred when an employee from the Performance Network disassembled an old refrigerator used as a stage prop and severed a hose containing the freon, Dziubinski said.

The employee and two other people in the parking lot complained of a foul order and burning sensation after inhaling the fumes.

Two were treated by Huron Valley Ambulance paramedics at the scene and were released, Dziubinski said. The other did not require treatment.

Ann Arbor police closed one lane of eastbound Huron between Main Street and Fourth Avenue, as well as the sidewalk.

The bank and theater were not evacuated. Crews were waiting for the chemical levels to dissipate before clearing the scene.


Sep 11, 2008

HAZMAT incident closes area around Main and Huron in Ann Arbor

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News September 11, 2008 12:28PM

Categories: Breaking News

An apparent hazardous materials incident has closed both lanes of eastbound Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

The road is closed between Main and Fifth Avenue. The area is cordoned off near Main and Huron and Main and Fourth. It appears the issue is confined to an alley off Huron Street to William Street. The road also is blocked off at that side.

The HAZMAT truck arrived at the scene at about 12:20 p.m. No further details were available.


Sep 03, 2008

Fire at Ann Arbor apartment building caused by unattended cigarette, officials say

Posted by The Ann Arbor News September 03, 2008 06:16AM

Categories: Breaking News
Firefighters work to control a fire at a building on Waymarket Drive in Ann Arbor Tuesday.

RELATED: Fire damages Ann Arbor apartment building

Ann Arbor fire officials say they've determined the cause of a blaze that damaged an apartment building Tuesday was a cigarette left unattended on a deck.

The fire department said this morning that damages were estimated at $250,000. The blaze displaced four families in the building at 573 Waymarket Drive in Briar Cove Apartments on the city's south side, officials said.

No residents were injured, but two firefighters were treated by paramedics, officials said. One sustained a leg injury and the other had heat exhaustion.

Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the fire was reported at around 3 p.m. as a cigarette ashtray that had caught fire. The fire spread from the deck to the building. Six units sustained smoke or water damage, Vogel said.

A total of 40 firefighters from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township were at the scene.


Sep 02, 2008

Fire damages Ann Arbor apartment building

Posted by Tracy Davis | The Ann Arbor News September 02, 2008 16:50PM

Categories: Breaking News

A fire that started on a deck at an Ann Arbor apartment complex spread two floors to the roof and has displaced four families, according to the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

No residents were injured, but two firefighters were injured. One sustained a leg injury and the other had heat exhaustion.
 

The fire, at a complex on Waymarket Drive on the city's south side, was called in around 3 p.m. as a report of a cigarette ashtray that caught fire, said Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

The fire spread from the deck to the building. Six additional units sustained smoke or water damage, Vogel said.


Aug 31, 2008

Apartment fire causes no injuries

Posted by Tracy Dave | The Ann Arbor News August 30, 2008 19:05PM

Categories: Breaking News

No one was injured in a fire at Hidden Valley Club apartments Saturday afternoon after a blaze started in one of the units, according to Ann Arbor Fire Department officials.

The fire, in the 600 block of Hidden Valley Club Drive, happened around 3 p.m. Saturday and was found by a maintenance worker. No one was home at the time, said Battalion Chief Robert Vogel. It is unclear whether the apartment was occupied.

The fire, found burning on a floor of the apartment, was contained to that unit, located on the first floor. The cause remains under investigation.


Aug 29, 2008

Fire damages interior of Old West Side home in Ann Arbor

Posted by By David Jesse | The Ann Arbor News August 29, 2008 22:53PM

A fire caused heavy smoke and water damage to a home on Jefferson Street in Ann Arbor's Old West Side neighborhood Friday afternoon.

Carrie McClintock and her teenage son escaped the house unharmed. McClintock said her husband was not home at the time.

Ann Arbor firefighters said they found heavy smoke pouring from the two-story house at 411 Jefferson St. when they arrived shortly after 1 p.m.

Carrie McClintock, center, gets a hug from her neighbor, Waive Briggs, right, as they watch firefighters douse the flames in McClintock's two-story house at 411 Jefferson St. in Ann Arbor on Friday. Person at left is unidentified.


Fire Capt. Dan Krueger said the fire started in the basement and spread to the first and second floor. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it seems to be accidental, he said. Damage to the four-bedroom house is estimated to be about $125,000, he said.

McClintock said she emptied a household fire extinguisher onto the fire, but when she noticed a thick, heavy cloud of black smoke in the house, she and her son left the house, she said.

"My cat just bolted," she said.

Because of the smoke, she was unable to get to a phone, but a neighbor called for firefighters.

The family had lived in the house for about a year.

McClintock toured the house after firefighters had put out the fire. She said the house was structurally fine, but "totaled" inside from the smoke, fire and water damage.

The family likely will stay with friends for short-term housing while looking for another place to live, she said.

Jefferson was closed as firefighters battled the flames. A crowd of neighbors gathered to watch firefighters, and several offered to help McClintock


Aug 20, 2008

Woman injured in I-94 crash

A woman was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital after her car veered off I-94 and hit a tree early this morning.

Ann Arbor firefighters used extrication tools to free the woman, who suffered unknown injuries. The crash occurred at about 2:15 a.m. on the westbound side of the freeway near Jackson Avenue, said Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.


Aug 18, 2008

Fire at Lurie Terrace senior citizen complex sends one man to hospital

Posted by Dave Gershman | The Ann Arbor News August 18, 2008 08:08AM

Categories: Breaking News

A 70-year-old man was hospitalized with smoke inhalation and first-degree burns on part of his body from a fire in his apartment early Sunday.

Ann Arbor firefighters responded to the fire in a kitchen in a seventh-floor apartment at Lurie Terrace, 600 W. Huron St., at 12:51 a.m.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Monday morning, said Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

Reporter Dave Gershman can be reached at 734-994-6818 or dgershman@annarbornews.com.

Some residents of other apartments on the eighth, seventh and sixth floors of the complex for senior citizens were temporarily evacuated to a sixth-floor lounge and the building's lobby.

The apartment where the fire began had heavy smoke and water damage, Vogel said.

Two other apartments suffered damage from water, and the hallway on the seventh floor had some damage from water and smoke.

All six of the city's fire trucks were called to the scene. Off-duty firefighters were summoned to provide coverage for the rest of the city, along with mutual aid from the Ypsilanti City Fire Department, according to a press release from the Ann Arbor Fire Department.


Aug 12, 2008

Police called in to investigate overnight fire in Ann Arbor

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News August 12, 2008 08:45AM

Categories: Crime

Authorities are investigating a suspicious fire that damaged a home on Ann Arbor's south side this morning.

Residents reported a fire outside the home in the first block of Englewood Court just before 4 a.m.

A family of three evacuated before firefighters arrived and were not injured, Ann Arbor Police Lt. Chris Heatley said.

Heatley said the first-responders found an object that they believe was thrown against the home and ignited an exterior wall.

Detectives and the city's fire marshal were on their way to the scene this morning.
Further details were not immediately available.


Aug 12, 2008

Wrong way driver strikes pole, fence on Huron Street in Ann Arbor

Posted by Dave Gershman | The Ann Arbor News August 12, 2008 19:23PM

Categories: Breaking News

A 36-year-old man was hospitalized this morning after he drove the wrong direction on Huron Street in Ann Arbor, struck a telephone pole and then ran over a fence, officials said.

Witnesses told Ann Arbor firefighters that the man appeared to have a seizure while driving eastbound toward downtown shortly before 9 a.m., said Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel.

The man's Dodge pickup accelerated, swerved into the westbound lane, struck a telephone pole at the intersection of Huron and Seventh Avenue, and then ran over a fence on the northeast side of the intersection, Vogel said. Although Huron Street is a busy route for commuters, no cars were struck by the wayward pickup, he said.

Firefighters removed the man from the car, and he was transported to the University of Michigan Medical Center.

In addition, a delivery truck struck a fire truck parked at the scene, ripping off a door. No one was injured, Vogel said.


Aug 05, 2008

Worker death at U-M site is probed

Inspectors visit business school construction area
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
BY DAVE GERSHMAN
The Ann Arbor News

An investigation into the death of a Jackson man at a University of Michigan job site Monday could take several weeks to complete, a state investigator said Monday.

David J. Smith, 31, an employee of Schindler Elevator Corp., died after he fell five floors down an empty elevator shaft in a building under construction at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

It was the second death at a U-M construction site in the last six months.

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A state safety inspector from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited the business school job site Monday to began investigating whether state safety regulations were violated.

"We will be looking at the work site, trying to determine what MIOSHA standards apply, and whether or not those particular standards were complied with,'' said Bob Pawlowski, director of the Michigan Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration's construction safety and health divisions.

Pawlowski said state standards require contractors to install fall protection systems such as guardrails, or alternative arrangements such as safety harnesses.

"This tragic accident that resulted in a loss of life has greatly saddened all associated with the project,'' said Marina Roelofs, U-M executive director for the department of architecture, engineering and construction, in a statement.

Work has been suspended to provide full access to the site for a comprehensive investigation, she said.

"We are reacting as best we can to find out exactly what happened,'' said Wes Cotter, the communications director for Gilbane-Clark, the project's construction management company, from the firm's Rhode Island offices. "Right now our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.''

Cotter said he anticipated that work would resume at the job site today.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department reported that it responded to a 911 call about the accident at 6:29 a.m. Fire reports said Smith's co-workers started CPR, which was continued by emergency responders when they arrived. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and Smith was pronounced dead at 6:45 a.m., the fire department report said.

The work site is a new $145 million, seven-story building at the corner of Tappan and Hill streets, on the western side of the business school campus. The project replaces older business school facilities that have been demolished. Much of the exterior work is finished and workers are finishing the interior of the facility, which is anticipated to be complete in December.

The project had been proceeding smoothly and on schedule, said Chuck Clark, president of Clark Construction Co. of Lansing.

"Both Gilbane and Clark have remarkable safety records, as does Schindler,'' said Clark. "We're all just devastated.''

In the other fatal work accident at U-M this year, a Pinckney man was killed in February when he fell 38 feet from scaffolding at the site of the expansion of the U-M Museum of Art on State Street. MIOSHA fined the contractor $62,000 after discovering that guardrails were not installed at the ends of the scaffolding and that wooden planking for workers to stand on did not extend the full length of the scaffolding, among other violations.

MIOSHA found that the contractor was rushing to redo a portion of its work on the exterior of the addition and knowingly disregarded safety procedures.

Dave Gershman can be reached at 734-994-6818 or dgershman@annarbornews.com.



Aug 01, 2008

Ann Arbor blaze is a stunt just for Hollywood

Spectators watched as a car blew up on the corner of West Liberty and 1st streets in Ann Arbor on Wednesday afternoon. The blaze wasn't the result of reckless drivers but the work of stuntmen working with a Hollywood crew filming scenes for Miguel Arteta's dark comedy, "Youth in Revolt." The film stars Michael Cera ("Superbad," "Juno"), who plays Nick Twisp, a teen who attempts to steal a car but instead wreaks havoc on the town. On Thursday, the crew plans to blow up a house built especially for the movie.

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A car explodes for the filming of "Youth in Revolt" in Ann Arbor on Wednesday. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

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Jul 31, 2008

Action's over on movie set in Ann Arbor

Posted by Jo Mathis | The Ann Arbor News July 31, 2008 16:49PM

Categories: Top Photos
Actor Michael Cera, left, and director Miguel Arteta looks toward Main Street after filming a scene from the movie, "Youth In Revolt" on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor Thursday.
It's a wrap.

And that's a little sad for Emily Wertanen, who says she'll miss spying on the action-packed motion picture being shot near her work site in downtown Ann Arbor.

"It's been a lot of fun to come up here and see how it's all done," said Wertanen, an art director at re:group, an ad agency at 213 W. Liberty, who had a good view from the roof of her building.

Filming for the movie "Youth in Revolt" starring Steve Buscemi and Michael Cera wrapped up Thursday after four days on West Liberty and First streets. The film is expected to be released later this year, said Andy Sleet, assistant location manager.

Once again, Ann Arbor police directed traffic away from several blocks of movie-making, and the Ann Arbor Fire Department was ready in case the burning car scenes got out of hand.

A curious crowd tried to get a better look through the barricades.
Jill Lemens of Ann Arbor pushed her 2-year-old son, Ewan, over to the area to see what they could.

"He likes the trucks," she said. "This is more for him than me."
Darrick Moss of Ann Arbor and Jonathan Hawkes of Detroit have spent a couple of hours each day of shooting watching the action.

"I've been taking pictures of it on my phone for my kids," Moss said.
Hawkes was disappointed on Wednesday when he arrived 15 minutes too late to see Cera, whom he remembers from the movie "Super Bad."

But Cera was on the set Thursday, and visible to Wertanen and a couple of journalists beside her on the roof.

Reporter Jo Collins Mathis can be reached at 734-994-6849 or jmathis@annarbornews.com.

In fact, she'd spent enough time there each day to have several members of the crew - and their job descriptions - figured out.

Aviva Woodward, a manager of the Fleetwood Diner up the street from the action, said business had increased a bit during the week.

"It was definitely up a little bit, especially every time that Michael whatever-his-name-is had to shoot a scene near the building," she said. "It worked out fabulously. Today he was coming around by the awning because he had to shoot a scene going back down the street.

So the entire place filled up with a bunch of people with cell phone cameras ordering French fries and cheeseburgers."

The actor stopped in for a bite at the Fleetwood Wednesday night, she said, adding that his waitress reported he was very pleasant.
Were there fans in the place at the time?

"I don't know," Woodward said, "but the cook got a picture with him. So I guess he's a fan."


Jul 23, 2008

Couple released from hospital with minor injuries after dramatic crash on I-94

Posted by Susan Oppat | The Ann Arbor News July 23, 2008 09:23AM

Categories: Breaking News

Related: 2 injured in crash in I-94 in Ann Arbor

Police say an Ypsilanti-area couple "got very lucky" Tuesday when they escaped serious injury after their car was rear-ended by a semi-tractor trailer and run over by the trailer of a second truck.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Mario Gonzales said the driver was trying to enter eastbound I-94 from Jackson Avenue and cut in front of the first truck in the right lane of travel.

The second truck had just delivered its load, so the trailer was empty when it ran over the car, Gonzales said. Witnesses told police the trailer on the second truck was actually lifted off the ground when the car was pushed underneath. But since it was empty, Gonzales said, "instead of crushing the car, (the trailer) went over it."

He said the roof of the car was crushed.

Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said firefighters had to pull the doors off of the small station wagon to extricate the couple, and the woman had a head injury and the man complained of pain. The couple, both 67, were wearing seat belts.

They were taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, but Gonzales said both were treated and released.

He said the injured driver was at fault in the crash, but had a good driving record.

Gonzales said the driver told a state trooper he looked at the highway before he tried to merge, but didn't see the truck in his path. Gonzales said it's the responsibility of merging drivers to yield to any traffic on a road


Jun 10, 2008

Ann Arbor Police take over investigation into blaze at University of Michigan fraternity

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News June 10, 2008 18:37PM

Categories: Breaking News

Past coverage:
• Firefighters back at frat house as roofing smolders
• Cause still unknown for fire that gutted historic U-M frat house
• Fire destroys historic University of Michigan frat house
• Watch the video

Ann Arbor fire investigators haven't labeled the blaze as suspicious, but turned their probe over to police to determine the cause of a fire that gutted much of a historic fraternity house late last month.

Ann Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain said the investigation was forwarded to police Tuesday in the hopes that detectives can help track down leads in the May 30 blaze. The Delta Upsilon fraternity house, in the 1300 block of Hill Street near the University of Michigan Central Campus, was virtually destroyed when a quick-moving fire consumed much of the home.

"There's nothing concrete to indicate this is a suspicious fire, but that absolutely does not rule it out," Chamberlain said.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported by neighbors shortly before 6 a.m.

Damage estimates exceed $1 million for the Tudor revival house, which was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn in 1903 and was listed on the State Register of Historic Sites.

Chamberlain said the structure's age and lack of sprinklers made it difficult to fight the fire. But the design also funneled the flames in the center of the house to the top levels and away from several rooms that remain unscathed.

Contact reporter Art Aisner at aaisner@annarbornews.com
or 734-994-6823.


Ann Arbor resident Larry Kowalski, a fraternity alumnus and current member of the local chapter's board, said there's still hope that portions of the structure can be saved. Living arrangements for the dozen or so students who planned to reside there in the fall are still pending, he added.

Officials with the fraternity's national headquarters in Indianapolis did not return calls from The News Tuesday.

Detective Sgt. Richard Kinsey said police were involved in the initial stages of the investigation and will now focus on evidence collected at the scene. He said they'll establish a timeline for any activity around the house preceding the fire.

A police dog trained to detect accelerants searched the home, and a lab analysis of debris collected is pending, Chamberlain said.

Detectives will also search police records for previous fires in the vicinity.

"There's a lot of concern because it's such a densely-populated area, and we have had significant fires around there before," Kinsey said. "We're going back over the other fires for possible connections to make sure all leads are followed."

Anyone with information is asked to call the police tip line at 734-996-3199


Jun 08, 2008

Gas meter ignites Harbor Way fire

A gas meter that got knocked off the side of a building was the starting point for a fire in the 300 block of Harbor Way Friday afternoon, the Ann Arbor Fire Department said.

An investigation is still under way into what or who knocked the gas meter off.

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The meter ignited a small fire. Firefighters were able to protect the structure of the building, with only some siding melting. Firefighters waited for two hours for the gas company to turn the gas off, said Ann Arbor Battalion Chief Jim Baldwin.

Firefighters responded to the call around 2:44 p.m. and were on scene for a couple of hours, officials said. There were no injuries.

News staff reporter David Jesse compiled this report.


Jun 04, 2008

Fire damages home on Ann Arbor's west side

Posted by By John Mulcahy | The Ann Arbor News June 04, 2008 19:36PM

Categories: Breaking News

Four people were looking for a place to stay after a fire heavily damaged their home at 1831 Ivywood Drive at about 5:37 p.m. Wednesday, Ann Arbor firefighters said.

Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming from a second-story bedroom at the back of the single-family home.

Firefighters were informed that all the occupants were out of the house, Vogel said.

Firefighters then extinguished the flames, but had to put a hole in the roof to let heat and smoke escape, Vogel said.

Three bedrooms suffered heavy damage, but there was smoke and water damage throughout the house, Vogel said.

A woman, her two children and the woman's father lived in the house, he said. The family was making arrangements for other housing, Vogel said.

Ivywood Drive is on the west side, off Dartmoor Road.


May 30, 2008

Fire destroys historic University of Michigan frat house

Posted by Liz Cobbs, Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News May 30, 2008 08:40AM

Firefighters battle a fire in the historic Delta Upsilon house on Hill Street in Ann Arbor on Friday morning. There were no reported injuries, but the fraternity house was destroyed.

? Watch the video

Ann Arbor firefighters battled a fast-racing blaze this morning that virtually destroyed the historic Delta Upsilon fraternity on Hill Street near the University of Michigan's Central Campus. There were no reported injuries.

Battalion Chief Robert Vogel said the center of the house was on fire and "the flames were shooting up high into the sky" when firefighters arrived at the two-and-a-half-story house at 1331 Hill St., between Olivia and Forest streets.

Reporter Liz Cobbs can be reached at lcobbs@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6810..

Contact reporter Art Aisner at aaisner@annarbornews.com
or 734-994-6823.

Firefighters from Ann Arbor, Pittsfield and Scio townships and the city of Ypsilanti assisted Ann Arbor in fighting the blaze.

DTE crews were also called to the scene after electrical lines behind the house dropped on cars that were parked there.

Five people reportedly were living in the house for the summer but it is uncertain whether they were there when the fire started. However, Vogel said, the residents have been contacted and "they were accounted for and are safe."

Larry Kowalski, a Delta board member who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007, said the house was an active fraternity house that had limited residency for the summer because of ongoing construction inside.

Residents of Forest Place apartments on South Forest Avenue wait outside their building, as firefighters fight a fire in a nearby building on Hill Street in Ann Arbor on Friday morning. The residents were evacuated because the smoke of the fire entered their building.

Nearby apartments on Forest Avenue were evacuated because of the heavy smoke. Residents living in an adjacent Forest Place Apartments said the smoke came into their building and set off the smoke detectors.

"The apartment was filled with smoke, the alarms went off and we just ran out," said Jebediah Long, who was awaken by the fire.

Witnesses said that once firefighters got the flames out from the porch area, they went inside to fight the fire but were forced out when the second floor burst into flames.

Witness Jerry Vanhof said flames from the second floor were "shooting out the side of the house like a blow torch."

The historic Delta Upsilon fraternity house at the University of Michigan.
According to the state's Center for Geographic Information Web site, the Tudor revival, brick house is the oldest residential fraternity or sorority house building at the U-M still occupied by the organization that constructed it.

The Ann Arbor District Library's Web site says the Delta Upsilon was founded as a non-secret fraternity at Williams College in 1834 and its U-M chapter was chartered in 1876.

The house was designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn in 1903 for the fraternity. On Sept. 29, 1991, the building was listed on the State


May 19, 2008

Fire damages restaurant in Ypsilanti

It took firefighters 30 minutes to control Hawkins Place blaze
Monday, May 19, 2008
BY SUSAN L. OPPAT
The Ann Arbor News

Hawkins Place, a barbecue restaurant, was heavily damaged in a fire that started in an outdoor cooking area Sunday afternoon, Ypsilanti firefighters said.

Capt. Dan Cain said firefighters were called at 3:30 p.m. to the restaurant at 97 Spring St., on the south side of the city, and arrived to find flames extending through the roof of the building.

He said the fire apparently got into the concrete-block building through the soffits.

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The department issued a full callback, and got mutual aid from the Ypsilanti Township and Ann Arbor fire departments, but it still took 30 minutes to get the fire under control, Cain said.

Cain estimated damage at about $100,000, and said it would have been worse had the building not been constructed of block.

No one was injured.

Susan Oppat can be reached at soppat@annarbornews.com or at 734-482-1166


May 04, 2008

Fire guts English Gardens nursery on Maple Road in Ann Arbor

Posted by Amanda Hamon | The Ann Arbor News May 04, 2008 12:16PM

Fire gutted a portion of a flower nursery's canopy early Sunday morning, Ann Arbor fire officials said.

Firefighters were called to English Gardens in the 100 block of North Maple Road at 5:36 a.m., said Dan Krueger, acting battalion chief.

The fire was under control by 7 a.m., but at 11 a.m. firefighters still were on scene dousing "hot spots," or fire in areas that are difficult to access, Krueger said.

Reporter Amanda Hamon can be reached at 734-994-6852 or ahamon@annarbornews.com.

Fire officials are worried about the integrity of the steel beams supporting the canopy, which houses various greenery and lawn ornaments, said Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain.

"I think the important thing is that it doesn't appear that anyone was hurt," Chamberlain said.

John Darin, English Gardens co-owner, said a manager had pulled into the nursery and gardening supplier's parking lot to open the store when he noticed the fire and called it in.

An English Gardens contractor was on the scene assessing the damage, Darin said. Although the fire originated under the canopy, Chamberlain said there was extending smoke and water damage into the business' main building.

The store was closed today, although Darin said he hoped to work with the fire department to find out if staff could re-open a portion of the outside business as soon as Monday.

"We're certainly hoping to do what we go to do this week to get opened for business," Darin said. "This is our busiest weekend coming up ... Mother's Day weekend is one of our busiest weekends of the year. This couldn't have happened at a worse time, business wise."

Darin said staff were redirecting customers interested in buying flowers to English Gardens Flower Market at the Briarwood Mall. Customers interested in gardening supplies and patio furniture were redirected to the company's Brighton store.

The cause of the fire is still unclear but foul play is not suspected at this time, Chamberlain said.


Apr 18, 2008

Dangling college student rescued

Firefighters help when rappel goes wrong
Friday, April 18, 2008
By News Staff Reporter Art Aisner
 

Ann Arbor firefighters rescued a college student who got stuck while rappelling from the roof of a fraternity house near the University of Michigan campus Thursday night, officials said.

Firefighters responded to the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house at 1601 Washtenaw Ave. around 11:30 p.m. and found the man dangling between the third- and second-story roofs, Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said.

The contraption the man was using to rappel to the ground jammed and he could not get up or down safely, Cook said.

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Firefighters used a ladder truck to reach the man, described in reports only as a college student, and cut the rope. He was not injured.

 

By News Staff Reporter Art Aisner

Apr 17, 2008

Five University of Michigan students displaced by fire that started on outdoor couch, officials say

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News April 17, 2008 07:56AM

Categories: Breaking News

Five University of Michigan students were displaced from their off-campus home Wednesday after a fire spread from an unattended hookah pipe left on a couch on the porch, authorities said.

Firefighters work at the scene of a house ffire on Benjamin Street in Ann Arbor Wednesday.

Four of the students were inside the home in the 400 block of Benjamin Street when neighbors frantically warned them about smoke on the front porch just after 7 p.m., Ann Arbor Fire Lt. Craig Ferris said.

 

The residents told firefighters they tried to throw the burning couch over the porch railing, but the fire had already spread.

"They got it to the railing, but it was far too hot for them to be there at that time," Ferris said.

No one was injured.

Ferris said embers from a hookah pipe the residents were smoking ignited the couch. A hookah pipe is a single or multi-stemmed water-pipe device for smoking tobacco.

Smoke and flames engulfed the porch and began extending into the main room on the first floor when firefighters arrived, Ferris said.

Fifteen firefighters from around the city battled the blaze for about 20 minutes and were able to stop it from extending to the second floor. No damage estimates were available this morning, but there was heavy smoke damage throughout the house and significant damage to the structure, officials said.

A few minutes after arriving at the scene, three firefighters were sent to another fire reported at the U-M C.S. Mott Children's and Women's Hospital at 1505 Simpson Road, Ferris said.

Contact reporter Art Aisner at aaisner@annarbornews.com
or 734-994-6823.


They extinguished a small fire under some wooden pallets that was discovered by a U-M police officer and then returned to Benjamin Street. A welding torch sparked that fire, Ferris said.

A disaster team from the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross responded to the Benjamin Street home, and a representative from the U-M Dean of Student Affairs Office also was there, Ferris said.

The fire was the second couch fire to damage a home in Ann Arbor since March 28. In 2004, the Ann Arbor City Council considered banning couches on porches for safety reasons, but the effort caused student outcry and was eventually shelved.


Apr 17, 2008

Fire damages home on Benjamin Street in Ann Arbor

Posted by Dave Gershman | The Ann Arbor News April 16, 2008 19:30PM

Categories: Top Photos
Ann Arbor firefighters put out a house fire Wednesday at 423 Benjamin Street in Ann Arbor, where it is believed that University of Michigan students lived.

A house near the University of Michigan's Central Campus was damaged by fire this evening, but no one was injured.

The fire occurred in the 400 block of Benjamin Street.

The home was believed to be occupied by several students.

Firefighters were still at the scene at 7:30 p.m. The porch and first-floor of the home appear to have sustained significant damage.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but witnesses said it likely started on a couch on the porch.


Apr 15, 2008

Max Wolfe Honored

 

On Thursday April 10, 2003, the Ann Arbor Firefighters Local 693 presented their longtime friend, Max Wolfe, a memorial plaque for his mother who passed away recently along with a photograph of the now closed Ann Arbor Fire Station 2, located at 1510 Packard. Max lived down the street from Station 2 and visited the station almost daily from the time he was 12 in 1953 to the time the station closed in 2004. Max loved visiting the fire fighters, playing cards and shooting pool with them. He occasionally ate dinner there as well. His favorite food was pizza from Cottage Inn.

Station 2 served the south side of the city and the Burns Park neighborhood for approximately 50 years (1953 – 2003) until the city permanently closed it and turned it over to the utilities department. Max arrived for his first shortly after it opened until he moved to the Chelsea Retirement Community around the same time the station was permanently closed. Firefighters say all that we have left from station 2 is the old truck, the station dedication wall plaque, and Max.

 Incidentally the great-grandson of the fire chief at the time the station was built now currently works as a firefighter for the department. Max has probably met more Ann Arbor firefighters than any firefighter working today.

 


Mar 14, 2008

Vacant house on Church Street erupts in flames

At 3:30 a.m. students watch as part of the building collapses

  • Page 1 of 1
(RODRIGO GAYA/Daily). Half of the newly-constructed house at 922 Church St. collapsed last night in a fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene at about 3 a.m.
(RODRIGO GAYA/Daily). Half of the newly-constructed house at 922 Church St. collapsed last night in a fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene at about 3 a.m.

(RODRIGO GAYA/Daily). Firefighters douse the house with water early this morning. As of 10 a.m. this morning, firefighters were unable to determine the cause of the fire.
(RODRIGO GAYA/Daily). Firefighters douse the house with water early this morning. As of 10 a.m. this morning, firefighters were unable to determine the cause of the fire.

This morning at about 3 a.m., flames were billowing out of windows on all three floors of a newly-erected house on Church Street, between Oakland Avenue and Hill Street

Firefighters were not able to identify the cause of the fire in the vacant house as of 5 a.m.

Crowds of students in bar attire and pajamas watching across the street from whooped and hollered as ashes flew into the air and fire licked the roof.

Officers of the Ann Arbor Police Department cordoned off the entire block with fire trucks and police cars.

Ann Arbor Fire Department firefighter Steven Lowe said the building was on fire when fire trucks arrived at the scene.

Concerned the fire might spread to adjacent structures, police evacuated the residents living in the houses directly on each side of the building. Firefighters attempted to make sure that no one was trespassing inside the burning house.

"Some crews tried to go in to find out if people were there, but they pulled out pretty rapidly because of the chance the building might buckle," Lowe said.

At about 3:45, the rear corner of the building collapsed. While the tone was lighthearted for some students as they excitedly took out their cell phones to take pictures, others took the situation more seriously.

"That's my house! Where am I going to live?" said LSA junior Steven Hakim, who had signed a lease to live in the house, beginning in May.

Around 5 a.m., fire and police officials said they didn't expect the fire to be contained for several hours and were concerned the entire building might collapse.

Lowe was unable to identify the cause of the fire, but did say that gas and electric lines had been recently installed in the house.

The house, located at 922 Church Street had been under construction for over seven months, and was advertised as the "newest unit" on the management company's website.

-Daily News Editor Lisa Haidostian contributed to this report.



Feb 27, 2008

Fire victim remains in serious condition

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A woman rescued by Ann Arbor firefighters from her burning apartment Friday remained hospitalized in serious condition Monday, officials said.

The 21-year-old woman remained in the burn unit at the University of Michigan Medical Center. She is undergoing treatment for severe smoke inhalation, said Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain.

Firefighters pulled the woman from her apartment on the second floor of a complex at 1010 Catherine St. No one else was injured.

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Chamberlain said the blaze appears accidental, but the exact cause has not been determined.


Feb 22, 2008

Woman hospitalized after apartment fire rescue

Posted by Art Aisner | The Ann Arbor News February 22, 2008 13:05PM

Categories: Breaking News

By ART AISNER
The Ann Arbor News

Ann Arbor firefighters pulled an unconcious woman from her burning apartment near downtown Friday morning, officials said.

Firefighters responded to a multi-unit apartment building at 1010 Catherine Street at about 10 a.m. and found heavy smoke coming from the second floor, said Batallion Chief Chuck Hubbard.

About 30 people were already outside the four-story building, but firefighters had to help a few stragglers out.

What Hubbard anticipated might be typical minor kitchen fire then turned serious as firefighters had to navigate through heavy smoke in the hallways and eight to 10 apartment units to trace the fire's origin.

"Usually these type of runs are for careless cooks, but this was very serious," Hubbard said.

Firefighter Steve Kreger said he and partner Bill Gamble entered several apartments before they found intense flames inside one.

Kreger carried the woman to the balcony while Gamble fought back the flames with a hose.

The biggest challenge, Hubbard said, was tracing the fire's origin.

"I thought I heard some muttering and she was on the floor toward the back of the apartment. I got lucky," Kreger said.

Crews from four stations in the city battled the blaze.

The 21-year-old woman was taken by ambulance to the University of Michigan Medical Center, where her status was unknown Friday afternoon, Hubbard said


Feb 12, 2008

Fire destroys Ypsi American Legion Hall

Posted by Susan L. Oppat | The Ann Arbor News February 11, 2008 08:28AM

Firefighters from three departments battle an overnight blaze that destroyed the American Legion Hall Post 282 in Ypsilanti.

BY SUSAN L. OPPAT
The Ann Arbor News

Firefighters from three departments battled fire and ice overnight at a blaze that destroyed the American Legion Post 282 in Ypsilanti.

Fire Capt. Michelle Stanbury said passers-by started calling at 11:36 p.m. Sunday to report the rear of the building at 117 S. Huron St. was engulfed in flames.

When firefighters arrived two minutes later, Stanbury said, the one-story bar at the rear of the building, and the two-story middle of the building were in flames, and heavy smoke was pouring out from the eaves of the third-story 1984 addition at the front of the building.

Stanbury said workers at the nearby Gilbert House assisted living residence had to move seniors living on the end of the building closest to the post into a community room overnight because of smoke. She said workers placed mattresses for the residents in the room. None of the residents was injured, and the Gilbert House was not damaged, she said.

Firefighters battle blaze overnight at the American Legion Post on South Huron Street in Ypsilanti.

Police closed South Huron Street from Woodward to Michigan Avenue to battle the blaze, and had to stretch hose lines across the street to a hydrant, turning the street into a sheet of ice and a parking lot into a pond, Stanbury said.

The road, the main entrance to the city from I-94, remained closed early this morning, since firefighters didn't leave the scene at 7:08 a.m. Workers immediately began salting and scraping the road.

Stanbury said the rear and middle portions of the building were destroyed, and the roof is gone on what is left.

Stanbury said the Ypsilanti Department used its old ladder truck likely for the last time Sunday night. The department has a new tower truck, but couldn't use it because firefighters are scheduled to undergo training on it this week.

Stanbury said she issued a full callback for firefighters Sunday night, and called in the ladder truck from Ypsilanti Township and a tower and engine from Ann Arbor to fight the fire from above, because the fire was too far advanced to go into the building.

Lifetime Legionnaire Ernie Smith said the building is insured. Post Sr. Vice Cmdr. Amir Fawzy said he was relieved he has the post's scrapbook safe at his home.

Smith said a bartender was the last person out of the building about two hours before the blaze was spotted, and saw nothing amiss. He said the building is at least 100 years old, except for the brick addition along the street. He said the post has owned the building since the 1920s.

Fawzy and Smith said most of the post members had heard about the fire Sunday night, but hadn't been down to the building early this morning to see what was left, let alone decide what to do next.

"We took care of a lot of vets, did Toys for Tots, and took care of lot of people at Christmastime," Smith said this morning. "We'll have to get together and see what we're going to assess."

Susan Oppat can be reached at soppat@annarbornews.com




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