Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Given the problems in the Detroit Fire Department (“DFD”) over recent years, the Michigan Legislature should consider expanding the emergency-manager concept to the DFD. In the following paragraphs, I propose a legislative DFD reorganization plan that would create a “State Fire Reform Office” and put in place a comprehensive “A” through “F” letter grading system to increase competition. Here’s how it would work:
The Governor would appoint an “Emergency Fire Manager”—who would be the head of the State Fire Reform Office—to take control of the DFD. The Emergency Fire Manager would have 60 days to divide the DFD into numerous “fire crews,” which would compete against each other with the goal of improving the delivery of fire-extinguishing services in the city of Detroit. Within that 60-day period, the Emergency Fire Manager would also divide the city of Detroit into 100-block areas known as “Fire Districts.” One fire crew would be assigned to each Fire District.
Each fire crew would be evaluated annually on the basis of the speed with which it extinguishes fires. Every fire crew would have the same budget for supplies, the same number of firefighters, and the exact same equipment—irrespective of the size of the buildings, height of the buildings, number of buildings, types of industry, number of residents, or presence of flammable materials in the crew’s assigned Fire District. This would foster competition and improve performance.
Each fire crew would be expected to earn an “A” or “B” every year, and to annually earn a letter grade higher than that earned in the previous year. Letter grades for each fire crew would be published in the media and set forth in a newsletter that would be sent to each Detroit resident by a pro-firefighting foundation to be selected by the Mayor of Detroit.
Once letter grades are distributed each year, the Emergency Fire Manager would assign “firefighting mentors” to any fire crew earning a “C” or lower. Firefighting mentors would not be firefighters themselves, but would be appointed by the State Fire Reform Office from a list of individuals who have either (1) worked as executives in fire-extinguisher or ladder manufacturing companies, or (2) served on the boards of directors of pro-firefighting foundations. The state would pay half the $150,000 salary of each firefighting mentor, but any fire crew with a “C” or lower would be required to pay the other half of the firefighting mentor’s salary out of its existing budget.
If, after 12 months, a fire crew with an assigned firefighting mentor still has not improved its grade to “B” or higher, the State Fire Reform Office would appoint a “Fire CEO” for that Fire District. Each Fire CEO would have wide powers to implement “reform measures,” including the authority to dissolve the fire crew, terminate fire-crew members, or contract with a “Certified Fire Suppression Entity” to provide firefighting operations in the Fire District. The legislation would define “Certified Fire Suppression Entity” as “any business concern which, in the sole judgment of the Fire CEO, would best serve the needs of the individual Fire District.”
My proposed legislation would require the city of Detroit to issue “Fire Bonds” in an amount not to exceed $350 million per year. The revenue generated from the Fire Bonds would be used to pay the salaries of Fire CEOs and Certified Fire Suppression Entities with whom they have contracted. In accordance with its power under Proposal A, the Legislature would simultaneously create a new ad valorem tax on Detroit’s property owners to service the Fire Bonds and pay down the Fire Bond debt. By allowing the people of Detroit to service the Fire Bonds with their own property tax dollars, the plan would create a partnership with the city’s taxpayers and give them a critical sense of ownership in the fire-reform process.
Under the legislation, there would be an open enrollment period during the last week of August each year, to be managed by “any entity with the experience to ensure that residents are properly informed of the low letter grades of failing fire crews, and to assist residents with open-enrollment paperwork.” For instance, the State Fire Reform Office could select a pro-firefighting nonprofit to administer and manage the open-enrollment process.
During the open-enrollment period, in any Fire District where the existing fire crew has failed to improve its letter grade each year for the preceding two years (whether it is below “C” or not), the residents would have the right to petition the Emergency Fire Manager for removal of the fire crew. Upon receipt of such a petition—and in the Emergency Fire Manager’s sole discretion—the State Fire Reform Office would be authorized to terminate the existing fire crew and replace it with a Certified Fire Suppression Entity to serve the Fire District.
The State Treasurer would be charged with appointing five members of (and serving as the chairman of) a nine-member “Fire Oversight Commission.” The Fire Oversight Commission would consist of (1) the State Treasurer (appointed by the Governor), (2) the Emergency Fire Manager (appointed by the Governor), (3) one appointee of the Mayor of Detroit, (4) the executive director of the entity selected to manage the open-enrollment process, and (5) five employees or representatives of Certified Fire Suppression Entities recognized by the State Fire Reform Office (to be appointed by the State Treasurer). The Fire Oversight Commission would be required to reallocate and reduce the number of Fire Districts in each year following the initial arrangement and allocation of districts by the Emergency Fire Manager. The Fire Oversight Commission would also have the power to reduce the budget of, or veto any expenditure by, any individual fire crew.
My proposal would set as a goal for the Fire Oversight Commission an annual 5% reduction in the number of Fire Districts. Each year, the State Treasurer would be required to issue a report to the Governor detailing (1) the annual reduction in the number of Fire Districts, and (2) the number of fire crews replaced with Certified Fire Suppression Entities during the preceding 12 months.
Under the plan, the State Fire Reform Office and Fire Oversight Commission would be abolished upon (1) the reduction of the number of Fire Districts to zero, or (2) the replacement of all fire crews with Certified Fire Suppression Entities, whichever happens first.
By now, I hope you’ve figured out that this is a complete joke. I do not advocate an expansion of emergency management under any circumstances; nor is there any pending legislation to take over the Detroit Fire Department. But if you think my idea sounds completely crazy, you should probably check out the proposed Detroit Public Schools reform bills that are currently working their way through the Michigan Legislature. The similarities between the real DPS plan and my phony DFD plan are striking.