It’s been a little under four years since Mike Hamel was hired as the Meridian Township fire chief, and despite working in Lansing for 25 years prior to his current position, Hamel is already acclimated to his new environment.
After retiring from the Lansing Fire Department where he worked for 25 years, Hamel became the emergency manager at the Lansing Board of Water and Light. It was there that he noticed an opening for the role of fire chief in Meridian Township.
“I spent a lot of my career indirectly preparing myself,” Hamel said of his move to fire chief.
With the new position also came new responsibilities. On an average day, Hamel helps manage the annual budget, develop larger policies within the department and work with training officers, among others. Of course, he’s still responding to major calls, too.
Hamel said that it took about a year for him to feel fully adjusted to his new role. The biggest thing about the change was getting to know how the department ran prior to his arrival.
“Really, the adjustment was learning the culture,” Hamel said. “Surprisingly, every fire department is a little bit different in who does what and how it was managed and how it can be or should be.”
The hardest part about his first years in Meridian Township is relatable.
“I think the hardest thing we’ve dealt with since I’ve been here is COVID-19. It’s changed the way we respond. We’ve had to really change our policies to protect the firefighters and force them to wear a higher level mask on every single call, not just certain calls where we’re required to,” Hamel said.
“So we’ve kind of had to adapt and learn from it, which we have, and I think we’ve done a really good job.”
Despite the changes that the department endured due to COVID-19, they’ve continued to stick to their yearly plans. This has resulted in many positive changes for the department and township as a whole, Hamel said.
According to Hamel, the department makes 10 to 11 policy changes every year. The department has also hired new staff members in response to the population growth of the township and ordered several new vehicles within the past year.
Growing within the community
The direction in which Hamel has led the department over his time there has earned him respect among his peers and the Meridian Township community.
“While I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of what they [the fire department] do exactly, I do hear sirens quite often, and I know they do their job well,” said Kevin Upcott, an Okemos resident.
“I do feel safe where I live because of that.”
Meridian Township Fire Marshal Tavis Millerov, who has worked in the community for 21 years, has enjoyed working with Hamel.
“Working with Chief Hamel is a great experience,” Millerov said. “He’s very passionate about the fire service and making improvements to better serve our citizens.
“Having worked with him for nearly four years now, I would say the biggest change from our previous leadership is the sense he truly has your back and will stand with you for doing the right thing.”
Hamel is just as appreciative of his staff members as well.
“I’ve got a lot of great people here at every level of the organization. Whether it’s the township manager or my staff here, they do so much for the community. They really make my job easy,” Hamel said.
Hamel was not always interested in public safety, but he developed the passion shortly following his high school graduation.
“I graduated in 1984 and I had zero clue of what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be manager of a retail store of some sort. I wasn’t really sure,” Hamel said.
“I think I was out of school five or six years, and I had made some new friends who were firefighters, and it was a part-paid department. So I started hanging out with them and going out to the fire station, and it kind of got into my blood.”
It was 1991 when Hamel was hired into the part-paid department to begin training as a firefighter. A year later, he was hired in Lansing, where he began as the emergency managing chief, helping with larger incidents and special event planning.
After a while, Hamel moved up to assistant chief of the department.
“In that position, I got an opportunity to do a lot of things. I had to manage a $34 million budget, hiring, staffing issues, purchasing, you name it. I did a lot of stuff, and I really got a lot of experience,” Hamel said.