PHILIP KITTELL JR.
BACK TO BRUCE. Above, Ken Staelgraeve of Bruce Township began his role as Bruce-Romeo Fire Department fire chief on Nov. 1. Staelgraeve began his fire service career at the Bruce-Romeo department and served as chief for the Harrison Township Fire Department before returning to Bruce Township.
(Observer photo by Chris Gray)
Staelgraeve aims to keep
up high levels of service
by CHRIS GRAY
Becoming chief of the Bruce-Romeo Fire Department was more than a new position for Ken Staelgraeve, it was a return to his roots.
Observer Staff Writer
The new fire chief, who officially replaced Floyd Shotwell as of Nov. 1, said his passion for the fire service began with a career as a part-time firefighter at the Bruce-Romeo Fire Department in 1983. He said his father was a member of the department as well.
"I started out as a firefighter/paramedic just like these guys are, worked in the field just like they are," Staelgraeve said. "I have a pretty good understanding of what they go through and what their concerns are."
Staelgraeve, a Bruce Township resident, served on the department for three years before becoming the fire chief for the Harrison Township Fire Department, a position he held for seven years.
He said now that he is back with the Bruce-Romeo department he is able to use his experiences from Harrison Township, especially as both paid-on-call and full-time staff.
"The best part about this department is when you walk in the door you can't tell the difference of who's who," he said. "That is not typically the case in an organization . . . I have 27 people on one department and they're all in it together."
He said one of the main goals will be to maintain the current levels of service and keep response times low as call volumes increase. He believes this will be accomplished due to many of the personnel belonging to the community.
"I think that makes it even more important to them that they provide a high level of service because the next call could be to their neighbor," he said.
He said he wasn't sure if he would be making any major changes to the operations, but expects there will be some modifications to ensure the safety of personnel and residents.
"There will certainly be some things along the way that we do a little bit differently," he said.
Staelgraeve said one idea is more involvement from personnel, including public education programs in schools, fire prevention efforts and day-to-day managing of equipment.
"Several guys have stepped up and said `hey, if you need somebody to handle this area I'm pretty interested in this,'" he said. "It kind of strengthens the organization and gives them an opportunity to contribute a bit more."
He said the department will continue to pursue grants for equipment, but outside of grant funding he said the department needs to check its equipment and plan ahead for any future purchases.
"I think Chief Shotwell certainly did a good job of making sure that we stayed on top of equipment and apparatus needs," he said. "From here on out it's really just a matter of projecting needs."
He recognizes that the township board had some turmoil over selecting him, being a candidate from outside of the department, but he said he understood since the township has never appointed a chief before.
"We just move forward from here and continue to do the good things we're doing," he said. "I like the passion that people showed, I think that is important."
As part of his passion for the service, Staelgraeve has taught fire science at Macomb Community College for nine years. He said he now plans to teach on a part-time basis because it offers an avenue for keeping up on trends in the service and seeking recruits.
"The one thing about the fire service is if you're progressive and active you come into contact from departments all over," he said.
Upon becoming chief, Staelgraeve ceased his part-time position as a Homeland Security planner with Macomb County. He said the position gave him a connection to resources such as county hazardous material response, technical rescue and SWAT teams.
Staelgraeve has a master's degree in public administration from Central Michigan University, an undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati in fire and safety engineering technology and is a graduate of the school of fire staff and command at Eastern Michigan University.
He is a licensed paramedic, certified officer for levels one through three, a fire inspector and licensed emergency medical service instructor/coordinator.