December 25, 2013 - By Chris Hagan
Special to the Review
It's often found that upon the conclusion of a time or era, there's reflection on the incidents and experiences had during that frame of history. The Orion Township Fire Department is of no exception as light is shed on 2013.
The department, which is comprised of four stations and 60 firefighters, five of which being full-time, saw its busiest year on record. Fires, vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, and Mother Nature attributed to a run volume of over 2100. That's 250 runs above the previous record-high set in 2006.
"It's an enormous amount of time to dedicate with over 2000 calls plus fire and medical training" Assistant Fire Chief and Operations Director Jeff Stout said.
Of those 2000-plus runs, several stand out in the eyes of the department. Late February, firefighters responded to a two-story residential house fire on Gregory Rd. The old-farm house had many void spaces and additions making extinguishment difficult. Adding to the list of hurdles, the home resided in an area where fire hydrants are scarce. Surrounding departments were called to assist in a water shuttle.
"It had been made into 3 apartments and the tenants didn't realize how far the fire had advanced and that it had gotten in the attic," Fire Chief Robert Smith said. "We had to enter all three apartments separately to extinguish the fire."
Fires weren't the only emergencies sounding the beeps of a Motorola Minitor fire pager. Stations 1 and 4 were dispatched to a head-on vehicle accident in mid-September. Just west of the curves on Clarkston Road, two vehicles traveling in opposite directions crashed and sent one vehicle careening off the road way, landing upside-down in the marsh. Oxford Fire Department was called to assist in the accident that warranted the need for one patient to be taken away via helicopter. Despite the intensity and severity of the accident, there were no fatalities reported.
Still fresh in the minds of thousands, December brought in an ice storm we haven't seen in years. Thick ice coated everything from branches to bumpers. In less than 24 hours the department responded to over 70 calls involving down power lines, obstructed road ways, and fire alarms.
"Around 3 am transformers began blowing and lines falling from the heavy ice build-up," Smith said. "It's the fire departments job to respond to every call of lines down and tape it off warning to the public to stay away."
The department was happy to report that not a single civilian life was lost in a fire nor was a firefighter's life. In a profession that is marked as the most dangerous job, it brings a sense of great accomplishment that everyone could return to their families.
Aside from emergencies, the department had a number of monumental milestones. The two oldest fire stations will be getting a new home and their sites were established this year. Station 1 will be moving to Atwater Street while Station 2 will be finding its new roots on Giddings Road by the railroad tracks.
Long time Station 2 District Chief William McNabb retired after his 37 year career with Orion. In that time, McNabb was present for the opening of two more stations, responded to thousands of emergencies, and commanded numerous structure fires without any firefighters losing their lives.
Most recently, the department began having Oakland County Sheriff's Department dispatch their emergencies runs. A big change considering the Village police had dispatched the fire department's emergencies for nearly 60 years.
"After many years of outstanding dispatch service from the Village of Lake Orion it was decided that a change was needed to be able to deal with future of emergency services," Smith said. "I am pleased to say that with cooperation from the Village and tireless efforts of the County, this switch went flawlessly."
This year was extremely busy for the men and women of the Orion Township Fire Department. Above emergencies and departmental changes, they educated hundreds of students and children on topics of fire safety and what to do in emergency situations. They teamed up with Jet's Pizza and delivered orders to Orion residents. If the home's smoke detectors worked, then the entire order was free of charge.
The Orion Fire Firefighter Association (OFFA), a separate entity made up of firefighters, ran programs throughout the year as well. The OFFA raised money for and participated in Shop with a Hero. An event held at the Oxford Meijer where deserving children are paired with a first responder and shop for Christmas presents. Additionally, the OFFA distributed its annual scholarship award to an LOHS pursuing a career in fire and emergency profession.
Comprised mostly of Station 3 firefighters, the Goodfellows raised funds to feed needy Orion families for Christmas. They accepted donations of toys, food, clothing and cash that was disturbed so that the holidays would be complete for those families.
Leading in to 2014, the department doesn't anticipate a slowdown. Hundreds of homes are still set to be built. Construction on new Station 2 is scheduled to begin early in the year and they plan to host additional events aimed at engaging the public and spreading the word of fire safety.
Most importantly, they're looking to stress the urgency and need of a millage increase for the purposes of adding full-time firefighters and replacing an aging fleet.
"The fire department has functioned on the lowest millage in the County for forever it seems," Smith said. "We have several trucks reaching the 20 year mark and an aerial tower that was built in 1974. And we must begin staffing our stations with more full-time personnel."
The department's millage hasn't increased in decades, but in that time the amount of people and the amount of emergencies has drastically increased. Orion has seen a rise in population of over ten-thousand since 1990 but the funding for the fire department has not seen its funds raised.
"For the past 20 plus years OTFD has provided fire and medical services at less than 1 mil. Our community has continued to grow as has our call volume. The time has come for our fire mil. to be increased to meet this demand," Stout said.
Despite the heightened call volume and the need for funding, Chief Smith continues to be impressed by his firefighters' dedication. The combination of full-time and paid-on-call means majority of the firefighters respond from home. An aspect Smith believes should be noted by the residents of Orion.
"I would like to let everyone know that Orion Township Fire Department is staffed with very dedicated men and women who could be your neighbor or someone you work with," Smith said. "Whether they miss their children opening presents on Christmas morning or they have to break that promise that movie night is cancelled, the citizens should be very proud of their local fire department."