Archived Story

Anderson assesses police-fire merger

Published 8:51am Friday, April 23, 2010

Dowagiac Daily News

Attitude made all the difference in Dowagiac merging its police and fire departments into a Department of Public Safety, Kevin Anderson said Thursday night at the 40th annual Wolverine Mutual Insurance Co. fire banquet at Timberline Inn, Indian Lake.

All firefighters ever asked was, “What is best for the community? How is the community going to be served by what we are doing here?” recalled Anderson, Dowagiac’s ninth city manager since Aug. 18, 2008.

“You weren’t focused on yourselves as individuals, saying, ‘How is it going to affect me?’ Instead of focusing on Tom (Atkinson, who became police chief in the summer of 1997 after completing his first career as a detective with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office) and what he isn’t, we focused on what could be done. We didn’t know where this was going to go 16 to 18 months ago.

Firefighters were eager to “spec out” a truck, but Anderson braked to question “our structures, the buildings that they’re housed in. I’m sure many of you thought, ‘Here we go again. We finally get a truck in the budget and we’re not even going to get it until we go through this dance of looking at buildings.’ ”

Anderson said, “We ended up focusing not so much on buildings, but we started talking about how the community could be served better. Well, we could be served better if we had one vehicle which served two purposes – a pumper/tanker combined. But we needed a structure to do it, and when we started looking at structures, we found one that could work. And in the end, I think it’s served pretty well. When you go to a fire, you don’t have to go to Harding’s and run across the street and hope there are not too many people shopping on senior citizen Wednesday.”

In the old station demolished by City Hall in November, it was all firefighters could do to squeeze between the trucks as they grabbed gear.

“We can serve the community quicker and better along the way,” Anderson said. “Look at the number of people who are here compared to a year or so ago. This community is safer because every time we had the vision of how this community can be served better. If something couldn’t serve the community better, we went in another direction. Because we asked those kinds of questions, we have new facilities and you don’t need tarps” to keep leaks at bay.
As for what the future holds, Anderson added, “We’re talking about consolidation of fire departments. There’s certainly a buzz out there. I can’t honestly tell you where I think that’s going to go. But I think what we have to do through all of those processes is continue to ask the question, How will the community be better served? How can we share our resources so people who have emergency situations will be served quicker, professionally and in the most cost-effective way that it can be done. We don’t know what that is yet. But what we do know is that if we have a group of people that continues to gather as this group of people has worked over the past 12 to 18 months to say, ‘What is best for the community?’ and then we talk all of our issues off that, something will emerge and we, as a community, will be very well served.

“I want to thank you for that because there are so many times you pick up the newspaper about how change feels negative. It will never be negative impact if we are always looking first at the citizens we serve who are our friends and neighbors. You have done that tremendously and I look forward to it continuing together.”

The 40th annual fire banquet sponsored by Wolverine Mutual Insurance Co. and President James Laing, was emceed for the first time by Nick Barnes.

Former mayor pro tem Wayne Comstock oversaw the dinner for 27 years.

Anderson’s career began in 1988 with two years as town manager in Lowell, Ind., 10 years as administrator in Howard, Wis., a fast-growing Green Bay suburb, and nine years in Van Buren County as South Haven city manager beginning in 1999.

He oversaw some of the largest infrastructure reconstruction projects in South Haven’s history as it replaced aging and failing streets and utilities.

He and his wife prefer smaller communities.

He lived in Kansas City while attaining his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri in 1987.

The 1978 Alpena High School graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Graceland University in 1982.

Anderson worked in real estate, helping companies acquire property, while working nights on his master’s degree.

Anderson said he Googled the words “managing change” for 28.8 million hits in 2.8 seconds.

Next, he tried videos and identified 2,700.

Books, more than 400.

News reports for the last year on how to deal with change?

A mere 139.

“There were several common themes,” Anderson said. Articles “talked about fear, anger, uncertainties and people lashing out. What we really need to have is an article about you guys and what you’ve been through because those were not your reactions” to the merger of the city police and fire departments into a Department of Public Safety directed by the former police chief, Atkinson, and Deputy Chief Steve Grinnewald and the fire department under Deputy Chief Dale Hutchings, a 30-year veteran who started as a police dispatcher.

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