Q&A with John Lehman, fire chief of the City of Grand Rapids

Fire Chief John Lehman said he hopes to continue the Homeless Outreach Team after the pandemic ends. 

Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman is most proud of the Homeless Outreach Program that was started in an effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.  When the homeless became sick they needed implementation of a new program that allowed the sick to isolate while undergoing quarantine.  Safety threats prompted Grand Rapids leaders to make changes that would keep everyone safe, including the homeless community. 

Firefighters and police officers establish relationships with the homeless to connect them with Social Services, Substance Abuse Assistance, Mental Health Assistance and other resources. 

The fire chief also discussed the future of continuing the Homeless Outreach Program even after the pandemic ends. 

Spartan Newsroom Reporter Sarah Benner spoke with John Lehman, the fire chief of the city of Grand Rapids, about future careers in the fire department and how COVID-19 is impacting his job. Here’s an overview of his comments, edited for space and clarity. On how COVID-19 impacted the Fire Chief Department: 

COVID has taken a big operation toll on the operation, when we don’t have the bodies to fill the seats it impacts us in a large way. We were able to get through it by working with the labor and union to relax some work rules. Counting on the fact that all our employees were coming in working overtime shifts and working extra duty to fill in for those vacancies of those that were off sick.

Michigan educators react to DeVos nomination

DeVos Place hosted the Michigan Music Conference, an annual event bringing together the state’s music educators – many of whom have not rallied behind new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who’s namesake adorns the venue. The Michigan billionaire was confirmed in the Senate in a 51-50 decision, the win decided by a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. DeVos advocates for school-choice and using vouchers to pay for private schools. But her opponents dislike her lack of education experience. “You have to be working with the kids day by day to understand what it is we do,” said Farmington High School choir director, Angel Gippert.

For an uplifting walk in a park, find a cemetery

Capital News Service
LANSING – The idea of graveyard as park, with landscaping designed to aid contemplation and to encourage the illusion that the visitor had left the regular world behind, is a surprisingly modern one. In fact, in this country it goes back only to the 1830s, says Thomas Dilley, author of “The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan,” a new book published by Wayne State University Press ($39.99). Before the 1830s, graves were in or near churches, clustered in tight places. But then, as churches ran out of room, cities dedicated large empty tracts, either within the city or just outside, as burial places. The vacant space had to be structured for the dead and the living who came to bury and visit them.

A landfill is born

Capital News Service
LANSING — Tiny fields, some trees and a road – that’s how this piece of land the southwest corner of Kent County, about 13 miles from Grand Rapids, looked in 1939. In the ’60s and ’70s the fields grew. Then – in 1982 a landfill was born. The South Kent Landfill is one of Michigan’s 48 active landfills for solid consumer waste. In 2013 almost 700,000 cubic yards of ash and trash were added to the pile.

More holiday-eve airport snarls? Maybe not at Detroit, Grand Rapids

Capital News Service
LANSING – Future travel plans will become more frustrating on the day before major holidays, the U.S. Travel Association warns, but airport officials in Detroit and Grand Rapids aren’t concerned. An association report predicts that in the next 15 years, more than half of the world’s largest airports will face that problem due to increases in travelers. The report said in the first half of 2013, enplanements increased 3 percent, more than in past years. Michael Conway, director of public affairs at Detroit Metro Airport, says there are fewer holiday-eve delays now. “The waits are reducing and the reason is because there are less aircraft in the sky,” Conway said.

Grand Rapids chamber to push education, tax policy, lobbyist says

Capital News Service
LANSING- Allie Bush is the new public policy coordinator for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Her main focuses will be education and tax policy. Bringing experience with an advanced degree from Grand Valley State University, she has worked as a policy advisor in the Michigan House of Representatives for the House Republican Policy Office. The chamber’s members span from Wyoming to Comstock Park and cover all Grand Rapids suburbs.  

On the other side of the state, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce sends a three-person team to Lansing to communicate with legislators and advocate for its membership.