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Jim Payeur to retire as Chelsea fire chief in November

Jim Payeur
Jim Payeur

After more than 10 years as the current chief of Chelsea Area Fire Authority (CAFA), Jim Payeur submitted a 3-page retirement letter to the CAFA board on Tuesday morning, May 17.

His last day will be Nov. 30.

In a letter dated May 14 to the board, he said he began his 45 years in the fire service in November 1971, calling it “the greatest profession in the world.”

“Personally, I’ve known Jim for 35 years,” said board chair Tom Osborne. “I know of no man in this county who has done more for the fire service than Jim Payeur.”

The board voted 4-1 to accept his retirement letter.

“I hope you get to enjoy your retirement … rather than taking on a supervisor’s job,” said Craig Maier, who retired from the Chelsea Department of Public Works, then ran for supervisor of Lima Township.

Sylvan Township alternate board member Rod Branham was the lone no vote. He said after the vote that he wished “it had been handled in a different way.”

Payeur, who began as the Chelsea chief in 2005, listed 16 significant accomplishments that have been implemented during his many years as chief.

Among them are:

  • The purchase of a tanker truck to improve water flow at rural fire scenes.
  • Upgrading the department’s fleet while eliminating excess vehicles and in the process the need for off-site storage of unneeded equipment.

Payeur said he is proud to report that the current fleet of fire apparatus is in great mechanical condition, including the aerial platform truck that was in poor condition when he arrived.

He implemented the current staff of full-time and paid-on-call department members, which include two full-time people on duty who are supplemented by paid-on-call firefighters. This change also improved service, he said, for structure fires and vehicle extractions.

Also included in the list of accomplishments are controlling costs by using full-time staff for emergencies, improved training and performance standards, maximized funding for the authority using federal grants, improved ISO ratings throughout the CAFA service area and reduced insurance rates for some residents.

“This put our fire department in the top 10 percent of fire departments,” he said of the change in the ISO rating.

  • A 1.8 mill tax levy was approved and renewed by the voters of the CAFA member municipalities, which negated the large fluctuations in municipal costs because of increased usage under the former funding formula.
  • CAFA and the Dexter Area Fire Department now have a joint response system that has resulted improved response times in Lyndon and Lima Townships.
  • Payeur was also part of the vision for the remodeled Middle Street Fire Station No. 1, which is now better suited to full-time fire staff needs with upgraded living space requirements and sufficient office space for fire staff.

“We spent roughly $200,000 on the remodel and greatly improved the function of the station and now have a building we can take pride in,” he wrote, adding a sinking foundation in the northwest corner of the fire station has also been repaired.

In addition, under Payeur’s guidance, a second fire station was opened – this one in Lima Township. The board spent about $173,000 to have a vacant commercial building turned into a fire substation complete with living quarters and space to park apparatus.

This second station improves fire and emergency service to not only Lima Township but also to the I-94 corridor, which are part of an automatic mutual aid response with other area fire departments.

“These accomplishments would not have happened without (the many people who supported me) … my excellent staff of officers and firefighters, both full-time and paid-on-call, as well as board members and my fire chief peers and firefighters in the Washtenaw County fire service,” he said.

“More importantly, it is the support and encouragement of the citizens I have had the pleasure of serving that has driven my passion for the fire service,” he said.

At the end of his letter, Payeur said, “I came to Chelsea with excitement in my heart, eager to build the best fire department and provide the best possible service with minimal funding. While there have been tough issues to deal with, I view them as challenges to overcome and lessons to learn from. I will look back fondly on the years of service to the CAFA communities. It is my desire that my firefighters, this fire department, will chose to soar with the eagles and garner the respect it deserves.”

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2 thoughts on “Jim Payeur to retire as Chelsea fire chief in November”

  1. I appreciate the information shared in this article! However, after reading an article about the CAFA on another news site last week, as well as reading a Letter to the Editor in last week’s Sun Times, I am greatly concerned about our community’s safety and coverage, as well as the fiscal responsibility of the CAFA. I think it would be incredibly beneficial if the CAFA board would hold a community meeting to help clarify issues that community members have questions on. Also, I am curious about the reasons why board member Rod Branham wished “it had been handled in a different way.” Is there any additional information on that to share? Thanks so much for your coverage!

  2. Please see my recent letter published in the Sun Times.

    Recently, I became aware of the on-going problems at the Chelsea Area Fire Authority (CAFA). As a citizen and a taxpayer I am disturbed by what I have learned.

    In 2012, we as taxpayers voted to renew a 1.8 mils millage for fire and medical emergency services from CAFA under the premise that there would be three full-time firefighters on duty 24 hours a day. Due to two recent resignations (one of them from CAFA’s most highly trained captain) and a lay-off of another firefighter, CAFA has lost three fire personnel in the last two months and will now be providing only two firefighters on duty per shift.

    This reduction in fire personnel will have serious impacts on any of us that faces a fire or medical emergency. We all know that seconds and minutes matter in such emergencies. This reduction in firefighters will make it impossible for those on duty to operate certain life-saving equipment due to the lack of trained manpower, and will increase their response time during those crucial minutes.

    Practically speaking, the increased response times lead to situations such as a kitchen fire spreading to become a fully involved house fire where a family loses everything or a cardiac arrest that leads to someone’s death. This staff reduction also increases the danger firefighters already face in emergency
    situations as they attempt to manage them with less resources.

    CAFA recently opened a second substation on the edge of its coverage area in Lima Township that is already $100,000 over budget and is still not completed.

    In the last ten years, CAFA has faced at least a 60 percent turn-over rate of full-time firefighters under fire Chief James Payeur. Compare that statistic to the US Department of Labor statistics for governmental agencies which has been 1.2 percent for the same timeframe. Continuing to lose highly trained personnel is one of the biggest drains on any budget.

    Chief Payeur’s wife has been his office assistant for most of his time with CAFA.
    Since that time, Payeur and his wife have controlled how the daily budget has been spent at CAFA. Having an administrator directly supervising his wife in a government agency is unheard of due to issues of nepotism and other conflicts. I would also question the ethics of having taxpayer money be managed by two people whose combined household income is directly affected by the decisions they make. Hardly a situation where one could be objective.

    As was reported in the Sun Times, Chief Payeur was caught lying to a Washtenaw County Sheriff Detective in a criminal investigation. One source tells me that Payeur was recently caught on video while on duty committing two more questionable, if not criminal, acts. I would hope that the CAFA Board would hold the fire chief to the highest ethical standards.

    CAFA’s firefighters recently unionized this past year. Before the negotiated union contract CAFA’s firefighters were the lowest paid in the county while Payeur continues to be one of the highest paid chiefs for fire departments of comparable size. With the new contract CAFA’s fire fighters have slightly higher wages, but still remain below the median.

    Every community receives what is called an ISO rating that is directly related to the fire services provided. The last ISO rating CAFA received was when it employed 12 full time fire fighters. The reduction in firefighter personnel to 6 full time firefighters will affect our ISO rating and cause our home insurance rates to go up due to increased risk.

    I would like to know what has caused this situation. I believe a complete certified independent audit of CAFA’s budgets for the years Chief Payeur has been managing our taxpayer money is in order so we can all understand what has gone wrong leading to this reduction in services.

    We are facing a dire situation in the Chelsea area with this reduction in our firefighting staff. Our CAFA board needs to recognize their responsibility and take action. We currently are paying for services we are not receiving. Community safety needs to be addressed immediately and effectively by restoring the services we are paying for.

    Shauna Mote
    Lyndon Township

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