“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says new fire chief Mike Kennedy. “Very few chiefs in their career have the opportunities that I have of looking at building stations.”

Kennedy, thirty-nine, was hired in November as assistant chief responsible for strategic planning; he moved up after Larry Collins retired in May. Born in Royal Oak and raised in Brighton, he’s got a U-M political science degree focused on local government and a master’s in public administration from EMU and says, “for me, Ann Arbor has always been a destination department.”

Ann Arbor’s last four fire chiefs have averaged just three years on the job. Kennedy says he’s hoping for at least seven: “I want to be here as long as they’re willing to have me and as long as it’s working well.”

There’s lots of work to do. The city has five fire stations, and Kennedy says that both Station Three, by Vet’s Park, and Station Four, on Huron Pkwy. at Platt, “are at the end of their lives.” The city had six stations before budget cuts in the 2000s, and also he wants to look at how going back to that model would affect response times and budgets–“we’d have to hire more staff, for one thing.”

Collins put the department’s chaotic record keeping in order, leaving his successor good data to work with. The most astounding stat: fire losses in commercial properties dropped nearly 90 percent from 2013 to 2016, from $5.5 million a year to $581,000. Almost as impressive is the one-third decrease in structure fires, from 144 in 2012 to ninety-five in 2017.

Kennedy says that’s “directly attributable to the outstanding work our fire prevention group is doing.” Historically, the department had just two fire inspectors, but “going into fiscal year ’19 we’re going to have six: the fire marshal plus five inspectors.”

But while the number of fires is down, he cautions, “the severity and the hazard is up. Because so much these days is constructed with synthetic materials, when we do have fires, it’s toxic hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. And we’re also finding explosive growth rates for fires.” As a result, he says, the number of personnel needed to fight a major fire hasn’t changed.

Kennedy says he hopes to start planning the station overhauls in the upcoming fiscal year. “My realistic hope is that in five years we have, if not shovels in the ground, then shovel-ready projects for at least two stations.”