"Sounds to me you're gambling with our safety and properties, and I object to it."
That comment from a Leoni Township resident set the tone for a township board meeting Wednesday night. A decision by township board members to eliminate firefighters overtime pay has resulted in the closing of one of its two fire stations. Residents there are growing increasingly concerned over that decision.
"We voted to give money to the fire stations to keep them open," says another resident, referencing a 2004 millage passed for the township's fire department.
Station Number 2 requires two firefighters to be on at all time, and when one takes a vacation, another is usually overtime to fill his spot.
Now board members say the station will simply shut down. The overtime was costing them more than $100,000. If the board stands by its decision, for instance, Station Number 2 will be closed for almost half of July.
Leoni Township Fire Union President Chris Huttenlocker says the closure could result in longer response times to emergencies; he worries fires will blaze out of control or people will die of heart attacks before they can get to the emergencies.
And now there's another twist to the story. Leoni Township, Jackson and Summit Township are all part of an automatic-aid agreement, which means they help each other automatically whenever there's a fire. Now Jackson and Summit Township are threating to end that agreement if this station remains unmanned.
"It's a bad situation for safety all around," Huttenlocker says.
Township supervisor Jim Phelps declined to comment on the board's decision and none of the trustees responded to the public comments.
"I beg of you to keep the fire station open," said resident Larry Hamilton as he spoke in front of the meeting.
But that absence of answers as to why this is happening is leaving residents heated.