2017-02-09 / Front Page

City Selects New Fire Station Site

By Erich T. Doerr

A site for a new fire station has been selected near the intersection of Chambers Street and US-2 on property owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the St. Ignace City Council heard a report about it at its Monday, February 6, in an update of department operations presented by Fire Chief Gary Sorenson. Mr. Sorenson also told the council about the department’s staffing level and vehicle maintenance.

Council also scheduled a public hearing for a new wake control ordinance and discussed garbage can hazards.

The city is now working with the Department of Transportation to acquire the property for the new fire hall, having already sent a down payment, and has entered the design phase of the fire hall project. Fire committee meetings will be scheduled to review design and funding options and the two townships will be included.

“We’ve needed this for 30 years,” Councilmember Jay Tremble said of a new fire hall.

Councilmember and Assistant Fire Chief Steven Paquin said the building would have a simple design, focusing only on bare essentials, such as truck parking, a meeting space, and storage areas. The plan is to house only the fire department in the building, he said, as accommodating the ambulance service would require a larger facility at much greater expense.

The city has not found any grants to offset construction, but is optimistic that some money can be found for equipment, such as emergency generators. Construction will probably require a millage, and a request could come to voters as early as the August election, providing the plans are completed by May.

Mr. Sorenson said the new fire station is long overdue. He has been with the department 42 years and, even back then, the department was talking about the need for a new station. The station at city hall is a tight fit for modern vehicles, and much of its equipment has to be stored at the water treatment plant and other offsite areas, some of it outside.

Chief Sorenson said the department will invite the public to the station to show what they have and what they don’t have in it.

The fire department responded to 91 calls, up slightly from 85 in 2015. These included runs in the city, St. Ignace Township, and Moran Township, in addition to mutual aid assistance to surrounding communities. The department has 28 certified firefighters and another three on training probation.

Mr. Sorenson said he would like to have 30 certified firefighters, but the lineup is always in flux as people move or other things come up. The department is well staffed except on some regular daytime runs, such as checking when smoke alarms go off, and as a few such calls have seen as few as four firefighters respond. A full complement of firefighters will always turn out for structure fires, however, he noted.

All of the city’s fire-fighting vehicles have some maintenance concerns, Mr. Sorenson reported in his annual report. The tanker is in Northville for repairs to the rusted rails upon which the tank rests, owing to exposure to road salt. Repairs are expected to cost about $5,000. A new fire hall, he said, would allow enough room to wash the trucks.

Engine No.1 also needs new front brakes, but most other maintenance issues are minor.

The department acquired a new slide-in unit this year for its wildlands firefighting vehicle. The new equipment replaces an older United States Forest Service-surplus unit that was several decades old and had a leaky engine. The new unit cost $11,000, of which the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians contributed $5,000.

The Insurance Services Office (ISO) recently audited St. Ignace and the city’s new fire hydrants earned favorable marks. Mr. Sorenson expects that the city will maintain its current ISO rating, but it will take a while before the results are in. If the rating were to decrease, the city would have one year to get it back up, taking steps such as having the fire department complete additional training at the ISO’s request.

The fire department is continuing its fire prevention efforts with all local schools, meeting with children to talk about fire safety. The department offered similar advice during larger family events in the area, such as those held at the Little Bear East Arena.

Mr. Sorenson also said firefighters appreciated the recent $1 wage increases the city has awarded, which he said was good for morale and will help keep people on the roster.

Maverick Construction President Rob Fraser offered the city the site of his business near the hospital as an alternative fire station if work ever stalls on the present project. He noted the Maverick building, if he were to sell it and retire, could be repurposed as an emergency services building, offering plenty of room for parking and working on fire trucks while still having room for ambulances, if desired.

Other Council Business

Downtown Development Authority Director Deb Evashevski informed the council that Diane Peppler Resource Center of Sault Ste. Marie will soon be hanging white ribbons on all of the street lights in downtown St. Ignace. The annual ribbon campaign will call attention to the campaign to end violence against women.

The city will be sending out a notice with the next water bills asking residents to take their garbage cans off the road once garbage has been picked up. Steven Paquin noted that he has received several complaints from local citizens about garbage cans being left out at the curb or in the street. Police Chief Mark Wilk added he also had received complaints and personally moved two cans out of the way.

City Manager Les Therrian said the problem may be related to residents, especially the elderly, who have difficulty moving the cans in heavy snow. Mr. Paquin said he understands the hardship, but that he knows a few of people who leave their cans out but do not fall in that category. City officials were in agreement that the city’s standardized wheeled cans have cut down on the amount of garbage previously blowing around on city streets.

A public hearing has been scheduled for the council’s Monday, February 20, meeting, related to the development of a watercraft control ordinance designed to help with erosion control at the Chief Wawatam dock. Data compiled by the St. Ignace Marina staff has helped with the development of the new policy, designed to minimize erosion.

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