Heroes are not recruited, they’re not born with special talents, they’re simply men and women who are presented with a situation and act in a selfless manner that exceeds normal expectations.
This past week, I spent an evening with two of Grass Lake’s finest, Fire Chief Greg Jones and Captain Brent Jones, who also happens to be Greg’s son, talking about the Grass Lake Fire Department’s vehicles, equipment and more. Both men agreed to meet with me at the fire station on E Michigan Ave after their regular work day.
The Grass Lake fire department is staffed by volunteer, paid on call firefighters. That means that there are no full-time firefighters, nor is the station staffed at anytime. When a call comes in, the firefighters leave their work, their family event, farm or whatever they are doing to respond to the call. All available firefighters respond to the station where they then respond to the call. The firefighters are paid for the time they are out on a call, an hourly rate of $15 per hour. While all the firefighters are volunteers, they have to meet significant training and physical requirements. The gear alone, weighs in the neighborhood of 75 lbs.
Grass Lake Township and Village residents pay for the fire department through two millages. The first millage, the Grass Lake Fire Department Building, funds the cost of the fire station built in 2004. That millage, .256 mils per $1,000 will be paid off in 2017. This is the last year this tax will be collected. For a home with a taxable value of $75,000 that will be a savings of about $19.20 per year. The funding for the operation of the fire department, the equipment and vehicles comes from the Grass Lake Fire Department Operating millage. That millage is 1.2294, or $1.2294 per $1,000 of taxable value. That equates to $92.20 for a home with a taxable value of $75,000. The Operating millage has to be renewed by the voters every 5 years. Without the millage, there would be no fire department in Grass Lake.
The fire department has responded to an average 25 calls per month during the last 12 months. Chief Jones, a 42 year veteran, said it is quieter during the winter months as they have responded to an average 18-20 calls per month the last few months. “It will pick up as spring comes” he said. The overwhelming majority of calls are medical calls, almost 85% the last few months. Medical calls consist of a variety of reasons; hear attacks, trouble breathing, vehicle accidents, trauma (like falling off a roof, ladder or tree stand), diabetic issues and more, generally anything that can be considered life threatening. While ambulances are also dispatched for every medical call, their response times vary greatly based on where the nearest ambulance is. Brent said “sometimes they beat us to the scene and sometimes we are waiting 20 minutes for one to arrive. We have to be prepared for every scenario the moment we get the call”.
The department consists of 25 firefighters, men, women as well as cadets. There are currently 8 fire vehicles, excluding the 1940’s Village Fire Truck that is used during parades. The oldest truck is T4 (Truck 4), a 1972 Dodge DNR Truck. This truck is on loan from the DNR and used to fight large grass/brush/swamp fires. “We use this only on the really large fires” said Captain Jones. “We have had grass fires that were close to 100 acres”
Firefighter gear is incredibly expensive, yet worth every penny. All the gear is the same for all the firefighters and the cadets. The department uses Globe Turnout Gear. The whole gear weighs nearly 75 lbs. A common misconception is that it is fire proof. Brent was quick to point out that “In an emergency, it buys a guy time. In a flash over, it won’t save you, thats where most guys don’t make it.” The boots are leather boot with rubber soles that are slip resistant. The boots contain a steel plate that protects the firefighters feet from nails and other sharp items that might puncture the boot. The total cost for each firefighter’s gear is close to $3,000.
Vehicles are obviously one of the biggest costs to the fire department. The fire department has in place a truck replacement plan that allows replacing a vehicle every 3 years, ensuring that vehicles will be used only for 21 years before being replaced. Money is set aside each year out of the millage so that the vehicles are paid for with cash, leaving the fire department with zero debt. All the vehicles are proudly built by Michigan companies. By keeping the vehicles newer (less than 21 years) and maintaining them properly, it ensures a better fire rating, which lowers homeowners insurance rates.
Chief Jones recently replaced the tires on Engine 2, at a cost of over $2,500. “Thankfully we only have to replace them about once every 10 years” Greg Jones added.
“Each vehicle has its own specialty and use” said Brent Jones as he walked me through the vehicles in the fire station.
Truck 3 (T3) is a custom built 1993 Ford 350 that is used as a multipurpose vehicle that transports 2 firefighters. It is used primarily for medical runs, highway accidents, ice water rescue.
Rescue 1 (R1), built in 2002, transports an avg 3-4 firefighters is one of the primary vehicles used because of its medical centric usage. It contains all the necessary medical equipment, including oxygen, burn kits, narcon drug, epipens and advanced equipment such as the jaws of life, air bags for lifting heavy objects off of people and its own generator to increase power to the extraction tools.
Engine 1 (E1), was built in 2006. An impressive vehicle that one can just admire for its beauty, let alone its practical usage. It holds 1,000 gallons of water, 1,200 feet of 4 inch hoses for those really long driveways, ladders, lots of ladders, axes, pike poles and self contained breathing packs (air tanks).The air tanks last an average 15-20 minutes depending on the person and the amount of activity. This vehicle can pump water at 1250 gallons per minute, however it usually runs at 60-90 gallons per minute.
Tanker 1 (T1) is a massive vehicle. Built in 2010, this tanker holds 2,000 gallons of water and has a built-in portable 2,500 tank that can be filled by other tankers when no hydrants are available. Most of the Township outside of the Village has no fire hydrants. This tanker is often used to provide water for E1.
Engine 2 (E2) is an older WhiteGMC drafting truck. This tanker is also used to feed E1 as needed. It is called a drafting truck because it can draft water from creeks, ponds or lakes. It can also be used to fight fires directly, as all of the vehicles except for Rescue 1 are capable of.
As a point of reference, during the Federated Church fire last January, the fore department pumped in excess of 200,000 gallons of water. The Village Water Tower holds 500,000 gallons of water when full.
Truck 2 (T2) is probably the coolest fire vehicle around. A custom 2009 Jeep, this vehicle is primarily used to fight grass, brush and swamp fires. 4wd allows this vehicle to go just about anywhere it is needed, even if that is off the beaten path.
Truck 1 (T1) is a 2014 Chevy VTech 4WD that is also used to fight grass, brush and swamp fires. It has also been customized to allow for a Stokes Basket, or in layman’s term, allows securing a stretcher to the back for bringing injured people back to civilization. It carries 150 gallons of water which Brent pointed out “goes a long way”. Along with T2 this vehicle also carries foam retardant.
Truck 4 (T4) is the 1972 Dodge Ram that is on long term loan from the DNR. This vehicle is used as backup for really large grass, brush, swamp fires.