OSCODA – Being a member of the Oscoda Township Fire Department isn’t what it used to be, according to Chief Allan McGregor. McGregor and a group of firefighters attended a special meeting of the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees held on March 15 at the Robert J. Parks Library.
McGregor talked about days gone by when someone could walk by the fire barn during dinner, sign up to be a firefighter and be fighting a fire that same night. On Thursday nights after having a meeting the firefighters would play poker and drink.
According to McGregor, the requirements and professionalism of the fire department are very different today. Each member of the “volunteer” fire department is required to complete 240 hours of training before being put to work fighting fires. Continuing education has also become a requirement. McGregor said he no longer uses the term “volunteer” he simply refers to the Oscoda Fire Department.
McGregor provided some statistics about the department. He reported that the department has a good loss rate and that the average response time is 11 minutes. Most fires are attended by 15 firefighters who arrive with the proper equipment.
McGregor talked about the changes that have taken place over the years. The department took over responsibility for the Wurtsmith District when the former Air Force base closed. The department is now handling vehicle extrications as well as dive and snowmobile rescue. The department is doing work that used to be handled by the Air Force or the Sherriff’s Department and covers a “huge area” compared to other municipalities. According to a memo included in the board packet, the department covers 187 square miles, more than any other volunteer fire department in the state. The area covered includes 7,253 households.
In the memo, written by Lieutenant Stephen Mallak, the firefighters asked that they be compensated $10 for mileage for any trips within a six-mile radius and $20 for mileage for any trips over six miles. The firefighters asked for $23.50 per hour for each hour they are on site at a fire after the first two hours. They also asked for $500 per year to cover costs of clothing, boots and other equipment that is needed for the job.
The need for additional training was also addressed in the memo. McGregor said that the department meets every Thursday for training and that the firefighters are a highly trained group of people. However, the firefighters said this does not leave enough time for the dive time to train, since their training time is limited to Thursday nights while other training is taking place. They asked to use the township equipment to train at other times.
The dive rescues are one of the best, although the way the department does the rescues is very dangerous, according to McGregor.
McGregor said the department has not had any serious injuries in 50 years. McGregor talked about the experience of the department. The five command officers have a total of 200 years of experience.
“I would put them up against any full-time fire department,” McGregor said.
The discussion turned to the Oscoda Wurtsmith Airport that does not have its own fire department or fire fighting equipment. In the memo the firefighters expressed concern about needing training in crash/rescue in the event that an airplane were to crash at the airport or anywhere else in the township. The training is offered in Alpena.
Jack Brown, fleet manager at the airport and captain in the Oscoda Fire Department, was in attendance and said that there has been a steady increase in the number of airplanes flying into the airport. Many of the planes are coming to the airport for maintenance and repairs and pose potential threats including brake and other mechanical failures. Brown reported that a week ago the fire department had to go on standby at the airport.
Brown reported that the airport has received three requests for Aircraft Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) during the past 60 days. He reported that the township could make $500 per airplane that requests ARFF. Brown said the airport was willing to put up the money to have two firefighters trained. McGregor said he wants to train four firefighters. The memo from the firefighters asked that they all be trained in crash/rescue.
Motion by Trustee Steve Wusterbarth for the superintendent and the policy committee to work with the fire department to make recommendations to the board for the April 24 meeting. The motion received support from Cummings and was passed unanimously.
The Oscoda Fire Department currently has 28 active members. McGregor wants to recruit an additional six members. He currently has seven applications but he thinks some of the applicants will wash out when they learn about the training requirements.