Latest Michigan Public Policy Survey addresses local firefighting challenges, approaches

June 15, 2016
East Tawas, MI Fire Department
Photo by George Thomas / CC by NC-ND 2.0

CLOSUP’s latest policy report, released today, examines Michigan local government leaders’ opinions on fire protection services in their communities, including satisfaction with fire services and funding of fire protection at the local level. Findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the fall 2015 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS).

Background, fire protection in Michigan

Michigan’s local governments offer a wide variety of different combinations of services to their citizens. However, one common service that almost every city, village, and township across the state provides is fire protection. Many local governments maintain their own fire departments, while others provide fire protection indirectly by contracting for fire services from a neighboring unit or, alternatively, working in concert with multiple jurisdictions through a jointly-run department or fire authority.

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Michigan’s local governments spend nearly a billion dollars ($909,068,000) on fire protection services provided by approximately 1,029 fire departments, which, in turn, are served by 34,500 paid and volunteer firefighters across the state.

Michigan firefighters are called upon to provide emergency response and non-emergency services of many kinds. These include not only fire suppression, but also emergency medical service, fire prevention education, arson investigation, emergency and disaster management, terrorism response and training, hazardous materials response, search and rescue, wildland firefighting, fireworks inspection, and more.

Michigan’s Bureau of Fire Services reports that just over a quarter (27 percent) of local firefighters are full-time or “paid career” personnel, while the bulk of firefighters statewide are “part-paid/non-paid volunteer,” with the average full-time firefighter in Michigan paid an annual wage of $44,000 in 2015, somewhat below the national average of $49,330.

Staffing of both volunteer (or paid on-call) and full-time firefighters has been decreasing in locales across the state, from Grand Rapids to Port Huron and in-between. The decreases may have been driven by a number of factors, including local government fiscal distress combined with cuts to state grants for fire protection, a gradual decades-long decline in the reported number of fires, and challenges over recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.

--Overview and policy report by Debra Horner, CLOSUP project manager, and Tom Ivacko, CLOSUP administrator. 

The Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) is a census survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan conducted by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan in partnership with the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association, and Michigan Association of Counties.

The MPPS takes place twice each year and investigates local officials’ opinions and perspectives on a variety of important public policy issues. Respondents for the fall 2015 wave of the MPPS include county administrators, board chairs, and clerks; city mayors, managers, and clerks; village presidents, managers, and clerks; and township supervisors, managers, and clerks from 1,418 jurisdictions across the state.

For more information, please contact CLOSUP at [email protected] or (734) 647-4091. You can also follow CLOSUP on Twitter @closup.