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Fire department saw challenges, increased calls

By Lisa Brody


In presenting the 2022 Bloomfield Township Fire Department Annual Report to the board of trustees at their meeting on Monday, June 12, fire chief John LeRoy noted they had seen an increase not only in fires, but in building fires the previous year, including on February 17, 2022, when they were met “with one of the biggest challenges in the history of the department” – the devastating fire at Oakland Hills Country Club.


LeRoy explained the department has four fire stations set throughout the township. Each station is served by three shifts of 18 firefighters. Last year, the department received 6,385 calls for service, about the same as in 2021, during which there were 6,381 calls for service. He said the department had been going on a lot of police assists, but he and police chief James Gallagher reassessed that protocol, “and now we're not going on as many calls unless they're calling for EMS.”


There are certain disturbing trends being seen not only by Bloomfield Township, but throughout all fire departments. Recruitment of new personnel has become very difficult, LeRoy said, and it takes a great deal of time and effort to replace any open positions. “The fire service, state and federal governments are trying to implement programs to attract candidates to the fire service but any success with these programs will likely take years to see any positive effects,” he wrote in his chief's report. “It may take a decade to resolve,” he told trustees.


Another issue is the increase in building fires, of which Bloomfield Township had 39 in 2022, compared to 23 in 2021.


“It can be attributed to car battery fires, more people working from home, people putting something on the stove and leaving it, all sorts of things,” he said. As for the increase of lithium batteries and ensuing fires, he noted, “In recent years these batteries have gone from being located only in cell phones to being in all of our everyday use items. Items such as cars, power tools, hover boards, scooters, bicycles and are used on a daily basis, but a new growing area is the use of home power systems and solar panels for supplemental energy or backup energy when the power goes out. Lithium batteries in their normal operating state are safe; however, sometimes due to a process of poor manufacturing, the quality control has shown to be an issue. When one of these batteries enters into what is called a thermal runaway there are limited means of stopping it. Massive amounts of water are needed to stop the fire and the batteries need to be removed to a safe area because reignition is likely.”


He said fire departments locally and around the country, including Bloomfield Township, are emphasizing training, safety and tactics in fighting lithium battery fires, as their use will only continue to increase.


Treasurer Brian Kepes asked if there is equipment to deal with lithium batteries. LeRoy said that along with community relations director Carrie LeZotte, they are going to begin an education program for township residents to prepare them for what to do when batteries die. “You cannot throw them out.


“When it comes to equipment, there's a difference of opinion. Really, the only way to put out a lithium car fire is with copious amounts of water. And once it's out, there's always the chance it can reignite. The standards and codes are changing so much, we can't keep up.”


EMS incidents were up significantly, LeRoy reported for 2022, with 3,617 calls for service, versus 3,495 calls for service in 2021. He said the number of long care and assisted care facilities in the township account for many of the calls for service, with more than 70 ambulance transports to hospitals. In addition, he said there have been an increase in motor vehicle accidents. “The increases are due to speed, distraction and a loss of patience. We are seeing an increase in the severity of injuries.”


The most significant event the fire department faced in 2022 was the catastrophic fire at Oakland Hills Country Club, where they were assisted by their OAKWAY mutual aid partners from around the county. “In this day and age, we cannot function properly without our mutual aid partners of OAKWAY,” LeRoy said. “Without the communities of Birmingham, Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Independence Township, Madison Heights, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak, Southfield, Waterford Regional and West Bloomfield the outcome of this day would have been very different and on this date OAKWAY stood strong.”

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