HINCKLEY –– Since March 1, the Hinckley Fire Department has been operating in a historic way that is bringing an increased level of service to residents, offering a more full-time safety force.
That is when the department moved to round-the-clock staffing at the station at 1616 Ridge Road. The move has been almost two years in the making, with the passage of a 1-mill levy in 2017 that generates the funds needed to increase staffing and buy more equipment.
The levy, which costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $35 a year, generates about $322,800 a year.
“Part of the levy was to go ahead and slowly increase our staffing levels,” said fire Chief Jestin Grossenbaugh. “Before, we were having an on-call where people would respond from home. … The goal is to have a faster response time.”
Grossenbaugh, who has a more than 20-year history with the department, started his tenure as chief in July. Even back then, he knew the future of the department was a more robust fire service.
“I’ve been here 21 years. I wanted to see the progression of the fire department,” he said then, just hours after being sworn into the new position. “I wanted to help my vision grow the fire department that I’ve spent most of my life being part of and building.”
Prior to being named chief, Grossenbaugh was a lieutenant in the department for nine years and a training officer for the 13. He said training and building a succession plan of leadership will only help the department continue to advance in the future. For now, the focus is on strengthening the new 24-hour coverage arrangement.
This has been something the township has been studying for some time, Trustee Becky Lutzko said.
“We have experimented with scheduled, compensated on-call shifts in lieu of our previous non-compensated on-call rotations, both of which were supplemented by our mutual aid partners,” Lutzko said.
“Overnight staffing, however, significantly reduces response times, which in some cases, frankly, is critical to the outcome.
“With the recent passage of the fire levy, close attention to our budget, overall expenditures and future equipment needs, and in light of the continuing increase in our overall population and in the aging of the same, we determined that now was the time to move to a full-time staffing model.”
Trustees voted back in February to expand the hours of operation to have two members in the building from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. nightly. Previously, the department had been staffed on an on-call basis from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The part-time, volunteer department has a few dozen members. The staffing change costs roughly $60,000 annually, which comes from the levy proceeds.
During the night shift, firefighters are paid minimum wage. If they are required to go into the field on a call, the pay increases to a higher hourly rate for the duration of the call.
Grossenbaugh said the department is working to hire more staff members to keep the station staffed. Four new members have been hired and will be sworn in at next week’s trustees meeting.
“We’re looking to have between 30 and 35 members on our department,” Grossenbaugh said. “After next week, we will be right around 30, I believe.”
Lutzko said Monday that the change has been a good one.
“So far, the transition has been a positive one,” she said. “Our chief, assistant chief, lieutenants, and other current members have all stepped up to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.”