The Sullivan City Council was presented some food for thought: the idea of consolidating its police and firefighting services during its meeting last Tuesday.
Kevin Arnett, a former Southwest School Corp. trustee and a current grad student at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the council of his final project before he graduates in December.
The approximately 20-minute presentation began with a dramatic tone, making his point by going through an actual scenario that occurred in a small California town.
“A gunman had killed three people, wounded six and disappeared into the neighborhood” and the town found “they didn’t have enough police officers to find the guy,” he said.
“Just down the road in Sunnyvale, there are 24 firefighters who had just got off duty” and were called in to assist.
“It’s kinda crazy, right, to have firefighters help police in searching with guns? Kind of odd, right? Well, these firefighters were actually police officers (too), they were dual trained and dual certified.”
These firefighters, he said, switched out of their turnout gear into tactical gear, then assisted in the search. And, he said, they played a significant role in cordoning off the area and the suspect was found.
Arnett said his project is a 5-year strategic generalized plan for police and fire consolidation for a small city and community, like Sullivan.
“This is important to me, being a firefighter in the state of Maryland and a police officer in Mississippi,” he told the council.
He noted this concept had its origins dating back to 6 A.D. to the Roman Empire, and in the U.S. in 1911. Currently, there are 132 consolidated departments, one of those being Whitestown.
“This is significant because it’s just a little bigger than Sullivan,” Arnett said.
“What makes the city of Sullivan unique, you guys are already in the partial phase (of consolidation),” he said. “When fully-implemented, you’re not a police officer or firefighter, you’re a public safety officer.”
Arnett gave the examples of Colt Thompson and Rob Robertson already filling both roles locally.
He said consolidation would benefit both the employee and the town:
Employee — “Be more marketable and will be paid more.”
City — “It saves money, you don’t need as many employees” saying the city wouldn’t need a fire or police chief, as they would be combined into a public safety director.
“Many times people go to the firehouse when something occurs because they don’t know any better, (but) the firefighter is also a police officer so he knows what to do,” Arnett mentioned.
He said one town implemented this over the time period of 1977-1992, being done through attrition. New hires were dual trained and required a four-year degree “because they found you are more likely to pass (both) the fire and police training programs.”
Arnett predicted the city of Sullivan could save “at a bare minimum of $100,000 through consolidation.” Benefits would be increased productivity and efficiency and an increase in qualified applicants, he said.
Arnett admitted consolidation is not for everybody, pointing out a few towns being unsuccessful for different reasons, including politics.
Arnett said 87 of the 132 cities that have consolidated are under 15,000 in population.
“The smaller the city, the easier it is to consolidate,” he said.
Following the presentation, during a short comment period, council member John Ellington asked how many of the 132 cities are the size of Sullivan or smaller.
Arnett replied to Ellington “about 20-30 cities.”
Council member Scott Brown said he’s seen the idea of consolidating departments in action.
“My comment is I witnessed the fire chief (Robertson, also a reserve police officer) at a (police) scene (last) Saturday evening,” Brown said. “I asked him how he responded and said he was on his way home and heard it on the (police) radio.
“I will admit it was a good thing there was three (police) instead of two. And it took them all to handle the situation,” he added.