PETOSKEY â€” Emmet County commissioners voted Thursday to restore funding for rescue tools at seven local fire departments.
In past years, the county has contributed $31,500 per year â€” $4,500 per department â€” toward the continued maintenance and training for fire department extrication tools. Those tools are often known by the proprietary name â€œJaws of Life,â€ and are often used to pry and cut away the doors of crashed vehicles.
But, amid increasing budget constraints, Emmet County officials reduced their total contribution in half in their 2019 budget, with the possibility of cutting the funding completely in future years. Member of the Emmet County Fire Chiefâ€™s Association raised opposition to that move earlier this month.
At their meeting Thursday night, county commissioners voted 5-2 to bump the countyâ€™s contribution back up to the full $31,500 for this year. Commissioners Charlie MacInnis and Toni Drier were the two opposing voted.
Earlier this month, MacInnis said he opposed making budget decisions â€œsequentially,â€ instead of analyzing the full budget in context.
The decision will require some financial restructuring in the countyâ€™s budget, which officials said was already strained.
â€œWeâ€™ll have a budget adjustment some time in the near future,â€ Emmet County administrator John Calabrese said in a phone interview.
It is not necessarily common practice for county governments to provide budgetary subsidies to municipal fire departments, but members of the Emmet County Fire Chiefâ€™s Association argued that the funding was necessary because of the amount of crossover necessary among the relatively small public safety operations.
The Zonta Club gifted Emmet County with the first local extrication unit in 1975. About a decade later, the Bear Creek/Resort Township Fire Department took over, and the county began its practice of contributing some funding to provide for the continued training, maintenance and replacement of such units in the county. Now, Readmond-Friendship-Cross Village Fire Department and Springvale Fire Department are the only firefighting crews in the county without such tools. Neighboring agencies offer the service in those areas through mutual aid.
And, although mutual aid agreements help reimburse the departments in instances where they actually have to come out and use the tools, local fire chiefs have said they donâ€™t help fund the preparatory measures, like training and upkeep, needed to insure the devices remain available as a resource in advance of such situations. In other words, if they expect such services to be available county-wide, then the county â€” not just taxpayers in each respective municipality â€” should be expected to help shoulder some of the burden.