How Things Work: The fire department. 

June 23, 2022

How Things Work: The fire department. 

A column by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

I’ve been contemplating writing a regular column for quite awhile, but I just didn’t really know exactly what the theme of the column would be (by the way, to go along with the theme of this column, columns written by editors are long standing traditions in newspapers). Then, it occurred to me today after I was covering a house fire in Hidden Forest mobile home park in Amber Township. How about explaining to the reader about how various things (or entities, governments, etc.) work in Mason County, and sometimes expanding beyond our boundaries. 

Before I get to the topic at hand, I want to explain this column. As you will notice, if you are following MCP on Facebook, you aren’t able to comment. Why? Well, because this is my column and not yours. It’s not meant to be a debate or a two-way conversation. And, quite honestly, over the last 10 years of owning and operating MCP, I have found that old adage “Why we can’t have nice things” goes along with the comment section of Facebook: There are just too many people out there who just need to always write a negative or contradictory comment. I just don’t have time to read them all. If that’s your thing, then just kindly share my post and comment away to your Facebook “friends.” 

With that said, let’s talk about How Things Work. Today’s topic is the fire department. Today, there was a horrible house fire in Amber Township that destroyed a modular home and damaged several houses near by. I reported on the fire, as I often do. Later in the day, I was talking to a friend who had been in that neighborhood and overheard some people talking about how it took the fire department too long to get there, 13 minutes. So, let me explain how the fire department works in Mason County (and about 66% of the United States). 

There are no full time fire departments in Mason County. None. There isn’t typically somebody sitting at a fire station waiting for a fire or medical emergency. Every one of the 11 fire departments in Mason County are paid-per-call or volunteer, meaning these are individuals who are your neighbors who have committed to serve their community, above and beyond their normal careers. They have devoted hundreds and hundreds of hours in training, up front and continuously throughout their time of service. They are always on call, meaning at a second’s notice will leave their jobs, their families, their children’s birthday parties, graduations, ball games, etc., to help YOU. 

And, they make really, really low wages so they can risk their lives, physically and emotionally, to save other people’s lives and property.  

They all carry pagers. When there’s an emergency, someone calls 911 and a dispatcher answers (that’s another column). The dispatcher then pages the fire department. When the pager goes off, the firefighter/first responder drives from where ever they are to the fire station (in some cases of medical emergencies they will drive directly to the scene). So, when you see a pickup truck or car with a red light flashing — pull over! 

Thirteen minutes? Yeah, that’s actually pretty darn good, considering it can take five to 10 minutes for some of these men and women to get to the fire station, put on their turnout gear, then drive to the scene. In those particular fire, Pere Marquette Fire Department’s station is 3.6 miles away and Scottville Fire Department’s station is 4.9 miles away (these are the two departments that responded to the call). 

Your fire departments in Mason County are funded by you, the taxpayer through property taxes. 

Those who live in the City of Ludington, Hamlin Township, and Pere Marquette Township, pay a special tax millage for the Western Mason County Fire District of .3 mills. This tax pays for certain equipment (mostly vehicles) for each of those municipalities’ fire departments. Separately, operating funds and fire stations for Ludington Fire Department, Pere Marquette Township Fire Department, and Hamlin Township Fire Department are paid through the general fund of each of their respective municipalities. The Western Mason County Fire District is governed by a board consisting of the Ludington city manager, Ludington fire chief, Pere Marquette Township supervisor, Pere Marquette Township fire chief, Hamlin Township supervisor and Hamlin Township fire chief.

Those who live in the City of Scottville, Amber Township, Branch Township, Custer Township, Eden Township, Free Soil Township, Grant Township, Meade Township, Riverton Township, Sheridan Township, Sherman Township, Summit Township and Victory Township, belong to the Mason County Rural Fire Authority, which operates seven fire stations/departments including Scottville, Riverton, Custer, Branch, Fountain Area, Free Soil/Meade, and Grant. The authority is funded through 1 mill for operations and .5 mill which purchased fire engines (pumper trucks). The authority is governed by a five person board that includes four regional representatives, appointed by the governing boards of the municipalities they represent and then an at-large member appointed by all the municipalities within the authority. 

Operating on its own is the Carr Fire Department, which covers Logan Township in Mason County along with areas of Lake County. 

Mutual aid agreements exist between the Western Fire District, Rural Fire Authority, and Carr Fire Department, along with fire departments from townships bordering Mason County. 

This short column doesn’t necessarily do justice to how complex the fire service is. But, hopefully, it gives a little explanation so you understand how things work. 

Rob Alway is editor-in-chief and owner of Mason County Press and Oceana County Press. He has been a professional journalist for over 36 years. He also served as a paid-per-call firefighter/EMT for 15 years.  

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