Ask ELi: Fire Coverage for East Lansing

Wednesday, September 14, 2016, 8:37 am
By: 
Casandra Eriksen and Alice Dreger

A perennial concern of East Lansing residents is whether emergency services are stretched too thin during big game weekends. Voicing that concern, an ELi reader recently wrote to ask specifically about a fire that happened on Friday, September 2, during the very busy weekend that MSU played Furman University in a home football game. According to the Lansing State Journal, the fire was in Meridian Township in the 6300 block of Towar Avenue.

The reader wrote:

“…Water was not an issue as there is a hydrant in the owner's front yard. Even though the ELFD station on north Abbot is 2-3 minutes away, the LSJ listed Meridian Township, Lansing Township, Bath, and Lansing as the responders. Where was ELFD? The talk is that they were otherwise occupied at MSU somehow related to MSU football event. I understand that FDs have reciprocal agreements and, while the home is not technically within City limits (immediately adjacent though), the time to get the other FDs to the scene posed increased risks for all involved….”

One of us (Casandra Eriksen) initially contacted ELFD to ask our reader’s question, but was referred to Meridian Township because Towar Avenue is in their jurisdiction.

Bill Priese, Chief of Training in EMS Operations in Meridian Township, said it is typically the decision of the command officer to decide when and who to call for backup. “The on-scene command, who made the decision whether or not to call, decided they had enough help to deal with the fire that took place,” he said.

In other words, the location was the primary responsibility of Meridian Township and they determined they did not need assistance.

The reader’s question continued, though, asking what if the house had been in East Lansing. “Would I also have waited for another fire department to respond? I would like to know what happened in terms of ELFD response to this incident, what exactly their primary service area is, and what that means in terms of responses and priorities to citizens of EL and surrounding communities. Thank you.”

We are still working to ascertain answers to the questions about response management during especially busy weekends. We can report that ELFD administration has consistently told Council that they have managed during these weekends.

Although we do not have access to fire and crime data related to the Furman game weekend, ELi reported that following a September 18, 2015, home game against Oregon—one year before—there were seven fires set in East Lansing. Like the Furman game, the Oregon game was a night game and the first home game of the season.

According to the City of East Lansing’s website, “The East Lansing Fire Department (ELFD) is a comprehensive, full-time fire department that provides fire services to the City of East Lansing and Michigan State University, covering more than 20 square miles and a population of 50,000+.The ELFD is dispatched out of two stations, which includes 46 firefighters.”

ELi’s Ann Nichols has reported that City Manager George Lahanas has said the City is “underfunded for fire and emergency services on campus.” ELFD provides fire services to campus, paid for out of the City budget.

ELi has also previously reported that the City of East Lansing and its advisors are beginning to look into the possibility of following the lead of other cities facing budgetary problems who have created “police and fire authorities.” These allow municipalities to raise special taxes to pay for emergency services, freeing up money in the general budget for other uses.

Emergency services consistently make up the largest expenditure in the annual budget of the City of East Lansing. At present, the largest source of revenue is property taxes from homeowners in the City.

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