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Woodbury Looks to Renew Cop-Firefighter Program

The unique program, aimed at improving response times for fires, was previously curtailed by budget constraints.

It’s not exactly the phone booth that City Administrator Clint Gridley joked about.

But having certain police officers change into their firefighting gear at the back of their vehicles when a blaze breaks out is critical to response times for the , officials said during a City Council workshop Wednesday.

Woodbury is one of about 250 cities nationwide that cross-trains police officers as firefighters. The city began the program in 2005, but it was halted in 2009 because of budget constraints. It costs $2,850 to cross-train and equip a police officer as a firefighter.

The Public Safety Department is hoping to renew the program.

“This is very much an unfinished piece of business for us,” said Public Safety Chief Lee Vague, who noted that he would like to see response times to fires improve.

Woodbury currently has nine cross-trained officers, and ideally the city would have a total of 16 to staff the program 24 hours a day, Vague said.

There is a limited pool to choose from. Only four current officers are eligible for the program, Vague said, and two of those ( and ) are recent hires. Future officers will likely be tapped for the cop-firefighter positions.

“It is going to cost us some money and it is going to take us some time to do it,” Vague said.

Councilwoman Julie Ohs voiced her support for the program, noting the coming of Woodbury. “We’re growing,” she said.

Councilwoman Amy Scoggins also said it should come up as part of this fall’s budget discussions.

“I don’t want us to get behind on that, and I think you’ve been fairly straightforward with us on what you need,” she told the public safety chief.

Michigan State University is conducting a study of similar programs, Vague said, but “it certainly is not a trend.”

Fire Chief Todd Johnson noted that some departments “feel threatened” by not having clear divisions between police, fire and EMS personnel, and each handles it differently. In Woodbury, however, officials want those cross-trained police to .

It takes a “rock star” staff to administrate the program, but it’s the right direction for the city, Vague said.

“The way we provide our service, I think, is the right model,” he said.

 

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