Do public safety depts. provide as high quality service?

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Communities merge police and fire into a single public safety department to save money — but some are skeptical the joined departments provide the same level of coverage as separate ones.

After every shift, East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety Sgt. Brian Davis pulls out his other uniform. The yellow fire department turnouts stay in the back of his patrol car because at any moment, he may need to strap them on and fight a fire.

“I think it makes you more well-rounded knowing both sides of both those jobs,” he said.

East Grand Rapids is among several West Michigan cities that have joined police and fire departments into one as a cost-saving measure. For the city of roughly 10,000 people, East Grand Rapids DPS saves about $1.2 million per year.

“Sometimes people argue that the services are not fit for one another. I think that’s a false argument. They’re very complimentary,” East Grand Rapids Public Safety Director Mark Herald said.

Herald said the public safety department transition in East Grand Rapids happened in 1986. At the time, the police and fire departments had a combined 40 officers; today, there are 28 who are dually trained.

“The problem is you have to get people trained doing one specific thing to do something different,” Herald said.

Joe Dubay, president of Grand Rapids Fire Fighters Union, argues that even though it saves money, the system could go up in flames — “at the cost of public safety, public property and public lives,” he said.

“If there’s a point where they have to get in and rescue, how long does that take? A firefighter, from the moment an alarm comes in, is expected to be in full gear in a minute and 30 seconds,” he said.

He says there’s not enough training.

“Everything’s going to be laid out. They’ll be ladders up, they’ll be hoses out and as soon as that full-time professional department comes up, they’re going to hand them the hose,” Dubay said.

But Sgt. Davis says the public safety officers are adequately trained to handle both roles.

Rockford and Kalamazoo also have public safety departments. Director Herald firmly believes a public safety model can be run in a large city.