CHARLOTTE, Mich. — One week ago, all 23 volunteer firefighters of Charlotte's Fire Department resigned, along with Fire Chief Robert Vogel.
Mayor Michael Armitage arranged a special council meeting Monday night to give council members the chance to hear what the firefighters had to say. While council members and residents were hoping for a discussion and the opportunity to work out a solution, the city’s attorney explained that a dialogue would not be allowed.
He explained that council members are not allowed to make the decision of hiring back the volunteer firefighters. The only person who can make this decision is City Manager Erin LaPere who said Monday night, “I’m not prepared to make a public announcement on how we are going to move forward tonight. I’m not prepared to make a decision tonight.” However, she said she knows of the urgency and is planning on working with Vogel to resolve matters quickly.
Residents of Charlotte were upset and voiced their opinions. Some said “just fix this” while others asked Armitage to apologize and to resign as mayor. “I don't believe the mayor has the city's best interest at heart. And you should consider resigning, Mr. Mayor,” said one of Charlotte’s residents during the meeting.
“How long can you hold your breath,” asked another resident. "Can you hold it all the way Potterville? That's where your closest truck is coming from.” Several residents voiced their concerns about not feeling safe since the firefighters resigned. The city is still mourning the tragedy of a home explosion, in which Jessica Droscha tragically lost her husband and all her family’s belongings.
Droscha contributed to the meeting with a letter which was read by Charlotte Firefighters Union’s President Dan Daly. Daly read, “I was told that my house was on fire and I needed to leave immediately. As I drove the frantic eight-minute drive home all over the county, men were getting the same call. The only difference is these men weren’t racing toward their own home with the knowledge that their spouse and their four-year-old daughter were in a burning house. They were putting on their gear and preparing to put their lives at risk to help a stranger.” In the letter, Droscha emphasized that politicians have forgotten their role is to serve the people, not their agendas. “I want to take a few minutes to just pretend that you were me less than a month ago. Imagine that you are in the middle of a normal workday. And you get the call. I want you to imagine yourself frantically racing to your house. Now, imagine that you are the only one racing to your home. There is no one else racing to your home to help you. No one is checking your four-year-old daughter to see if she is okay. That is why our fire department is worth every penny.”
Some council members and residents expressed that resigning was not the right way to solve problems.
Former Volunteer Firefighter Ronald Smith apologized to the community for quitting. “In that moment, we felt that it was the only option left to truly get a resolution to all the things we have laid before you,” Smith said, promising that this will never happen again.
He outlined the reasons for the resignations. A couple of them were that Armitage allegedly accused firefighters of wrong overtime reports without clarifying wrong accusations to the public and questioned whether both fire stations would need to be open 24/7. “For the past 10 years, our annual run count has increased from 631 to 1,056,” Smith said. “Has any other department in the city increased their workload 67 percent without adding additional and paid employees?”
He further stated that Vogel’s resignation meant “losing another fire chief to the politics of the city and Rural Fire Association.”
Eaton Rapids Township Fire Chief Rob Herig came to the meeting to express his concerns about Armitage’s hope for support. He said that his department would not be able to handle another and that he is concerned he won’t get any support from Charlotte’s Fire Department when needed.
“To be honest, I hope for a resolution,” said Nicole Christensen, a resident of Charlotte. “I was under the assumption, I think as most of the community, that we were coming into this to get answers tonight, get a resolution, be able to sleep and feel safe in our homes," Christensen said. "We don’t have that, we are told we have to wait another week until April 4.”
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