Benton Harbor PSOs putting lives at riskPublished 3:55pm Thursday, April 11, 2013
Benton Harbor’s Public Safety Department has come under scrutiny after 13-year veteran Lt. Doug Bell was badly burned March 14 fighting a house fire at 1034 Jennings Ave.
Bell is one of only three fulltime firefighters since the state takeover by an emergency manager two years ago axed the fulltime fire department.
To cut city costs, fire and police services merged into a Public Safety Department staffed mainly by “public safety officers,” or PSOs — police officers cross-trained to fight fires — and one fulltime firefighter per day.
The Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union contends PSO officers are not adequately trained to fight fires.
MPFFU called on state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Tony Saunders to “immediately put an end to this failed PSO experiment.”
“If things continue as they are now, it’s only a matter of time before someone else gets injured or killed.”
Bell is making a slow recovery in a Kalamazoo burn unit. His ties to North Berrien Fire Department resulted in it putting on a pancake breakfast which raised more than $22,000.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill to retrain PSOs, who have already been trained to replace fulltime firefighters,” the MPFFU said. “This community should not serve as a cost-cutting experiment, especially not when lives are on the line. Benton Harbor residents should be outraged and join us in the call for bringing back fully trained firefighters and a fully functioning fire department.”
Benton Harbor is not the only Michigan city under emergency management or state control switched to a PSO. Ecorse and River Rouge saw their separate police and fire departments dissolved by the state to shrink costs.
Dowagiac created a public safety department in 2009 overseen by former police chief Tom Atkinson, with deputy chiefs Guy Evans for fire and Steve Grinnewald for police.
Dowagiac’s consolidation streamlined administration, but wisely stopped short of cross-training that creates fire-fighting police officers.
That was reassuring on a day like Wednesday, with a major house fire shutting down Division Street (M-62), the main route between Dowagiac and Cassopolis.
Several area departments lent manpower to battle the blaze safely.