Q&A with Ferndale fire chief

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Teresa Robinson, in her office at the Ferndale Fire Department, explains her plan to expand the department. A staffed department can run two ambulances and serve both sides of the city. Screenshot by Arden Vanover.

Ferndale Fire Chief, Teresa Robinson wants to continue the growth within her fire department so it can better serve the community. 

For the interview, go here.

Robinson started her career at the Lansing Fire Department where she served in multiple positions during her 24 year tenure for. During that time, she went back to school to earn a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, far beyond the requirements for the fire department. 

Nearing the end of her career in Lansing, Robinson was the assistant fire chief and noticed that there was an opening for a fire chief in Ferndale, and she applied. Typically, a fire department would hire from within. But, because of her experience, training and advanced education, she was unanimously selected to be their new chief with hopes she would bring a fresh perspective to the community.

COVID-19 changes the fire department a bit. The firefighters had to wear masks, which were different to their typical PPE, and they weren’t allowed to perform many rescue procedures out of caution for stopping the spread. However, she said they have adjusted to these changes so they can continue to serve the community.

Spartan Newsroom Reporter Arden Vanover spoke with Teresa Robinson about her position, plans and how COVID-19 is impacting her job.


Teresa Robinson: So as the fire chief, I’m responsible for the overall operations and provision of services of our department to the city. So, outside of just 911 calls as one part of what we do, we have a variety of other services we provide our community plus to other communities that contract our services, in addition to our surrounding communities that we respond in to assist. So, my job is fire chief is, first of all, ensure that I have the right people and enough people here working with all of our equipment, our vehicles and our operating condition, and we have everything we need to operate safely, compliantly and effectively. 

Arden Vanover: How did you obtain your position?

Robinson: So, I started in the fire service up in Lansing, Michigan, and I did an entire career at Lansing Fire Department. I worked over 24 years there. I started hired on as a firefighter EMT, became a paramedic, worked up through the ranks, held the various positions, did a variety of things outside of the immediate fire department that were associated items, or jobs and roles. And I also went back to school and completed degrees. So I actually have a bachelor’s degree, master’s, and a doctorate, which is way above and beyond anything you need for the fire service.

But toward the end of my career, and I was assistant fire chief at the time, Ferndale Fire Department was looking for a new fire chief, and reading what this community stands for and what they were looking for, I felt like it was a really good fit. So I applied for the job. And throughout the process, I was unanimously selected to be their new Fire Chief down here to bring a change and a new perspective.

So I’m the first person, fire chief, they’ve ever hired from outside their fire department, they always wanted from within. But it was really just about my experience that I had gained at City of Lansing Fire Department, my education and then all of the other teaching and job associated jobs that I did, to really further the  professional development myself is what made me the candidate to be selected as fire chief.
When COVID hit, because of the type of illness it was, there’s so much uncertainty, it actually changed some of our treatment protocols. It changed how we would actually provide care to patients. There’s so much unknown, but there’s also variations we had to do to try to keep the patient safe, keep us safe and those around the patient safe so that a treatment didn’t actually spread the virus, such as given a breathing treatment, which then puts droplets of the breath into the air, and then we run around and breathe it in. So we would have to stop and not administer those breathing treatments was absolutely necessary. Because of the risk it put to anybody else in that area.

Vanover: What are some important issues that you think the community of Ferndale should be focusing on right now?

Robinson: Biggest thing in any community is something called community risk reduction. And what that essentially means is, you look at your specific community, identify what items, what things are causing harm or bad things to happen. What is causing people to get hurt, sick, or have negative outcomes, whether it be fires, whatever not. And you do that assessment, and then the community risk reductions are things you can do to kind of mitigate and stop and limit those things from happening. For instance, smoke detectors in homes. Not everybody has smoke detectors in homes, and that’s part of community risk reduction. It’s the education of our community for them to understand the importance of it, but also how many they should have, where they should have them installed, how to properly have them installed, whether they’re on the ceiling on the wall, should they be like bedrooms, in the kitchen. So having the education the outreach to help people with that because smoke detectors truly do save lives.

Vanover: Are there any changes in the future that we should look out for the Ferndale Fire Department?

Robinson: I think the biggest change is us just trying to grow. I’m hiring right now. We’ve been —this fire department has been running with vacant positions for a long time. And we’re really trying to get it fully staffed up. And if we get it fully staffed, we’re actually going to be able to staff two ambulances. So one on each side of the city all the time, which will be a great change for this community because there’s a need for it, and also increased presence and services we could provide to our community. So it’s really good stuff that we’re working toward and we want to bring to our community, and we’re just trying to finish hiring the few more firefighters we need so we can provide, you know, make these changes for our community.

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