Fire Chief Robert Arbini has been active in fire and emergency work his entire career. His preparation included study at Concordia University, Ann Arbor earning a BA in Business Administration and Management/Leadership. He also completed a Master’s degree in Homeland Security/Emergency Management from Eastern Michigan University. He served in the Westland Fire Department for 21 years and has been the Chief of the Chelsea Area Fire Authority since 2017. The Washtenaw 100 had a chance to chat with Chief Arbini.
The Washtenaw 100: Chief Arbini, what goes on at the Chelsea Area Fire Authority on a daily basis?
Chief Arbini: We serve the citizens of the city of Chelsea, and townships of Lima and Sylvan and then we also do a dual response area into Dexter. So, it’s approximately 116 square miles that we cover. The population is about 18,000 thousand. Plus, we serve people that drive down I-94 which is about 40,000 cars a day.
We’re asked to respond to fire calls, medical calls, rescue, and hazmat.
The Washtenaw 100: That must take a lot of flexibility on the part of your team?
Chief Arbini: We see ourselves as problem-solvers. And that’s the expectation of people who call. You are expected to know how to deal with any number of situations. People are looking for someone they can trust who is going to take care of the problem. If it’s a fire, to manage it and bring it under control to minimize the impact and keep people safe. Or on a medical call, a person could be in a life-threatening situation. We may be their last line of defense, so our job is to take action to save their life or perhaps just to calm them down and change their demeanor so they can stabilize.
The Washtenaw 100: That puts a lot of pressure on your team each day.
Chief Arbini: It does, but they’re a very well-trained team who are experienced in facing all kinds of emergency challenges. There are certainly stressors and those who stay in the field learn how, with their families, to manage those pressures. And we work together with them to check in on what’s going on with each person and to keep them expanding in their knowledge through regular training.
The Washtenaw 100: What kind of people do you look for to be on your staff as firefighters?
Chief Arbini: My main emphasis would be that you need to be people- and service-oriented. You need to want to help people. You’re not going to become a millionaire doing this job, (he smiles) but you gain a lot of knowledge in the job that you can apply hands on. So, if your goal is to respond to calls and to help, you’ll find real satisfaction in this career.
The Washtenaw 100: You mentioned responding to medical calls. Do you work in tandem with the ambulance services in the area?
Chief Arbini: Yes, we do. A lot of people don’t know this, but our people are medically trained as basic EMTs and some of them have their paramedic license. And this is one of my initiatives in Chelsea. We are growing as a community, and we want to make certain that we can partner with the EMT services so that we can benefit from them, and we in turn, can alleviate them from some of the constraints that they are facing in servicing a broader area.
To that end, we want to become a transporting agency. We have an ambulance and have the ability to transport right now. For example, if it’s a high priority call and the ambulance service is not within X number of minutes to our location, we can make the decision to take this high priority call into the hospital to give them some definitive care. So, I like to look at it as we’re becoming a better partner to the ambulance service by expanding our service.
The Washtenaw 100: Are there other initiatives that are front burner for you as a department?
Chief Arbini: We’re looking to expand our preventative efforts through inspections. The goal is to assure the safety of patrons and their employees at businesses, or residents at multi-residential units. But it’s also to proactively equip our team to be more aware of the setting so that if we are called there, we have knowledge of the location.
We recently hired a part-time inspector to go to businesses to do walkthroughs and start to point out things to them that they really should hone in on to make it a safe environment—like making sure their exit signs light up, that there’s nothing in front of sprinkler heads to allow water flow, and making certain that no egress doors are chained.
The second step to the inspection is a preplanned walkthrough with our personnel so they know where certain things are. We mark down where the gas and electrical shut offs are, where the roof access is for HVAC units, anything that could possibly cause an issue, so we know where to locate it, and how to deal with it in a much quicker fashion.
During this time, we have a chance to interact with the owners and employees or in the case of housing, the managers and some of the residents. They get to know us. And having good rapport with the community helps build trust, and ultimately safety.
The Washtenaw 100: How has The Washtenaw 100 been able to be of support?
Chief Arbini: As a department we appreciate the fact that we can apply for grants and also have some of our team recognized for their service.
On a personal level, The Washtenaw 100 assisted my three sons. My oldest and middle sons both were recipients of the educational scholarships. Recently the youngest son put in an application and just heard he’s been awarded a scholarship. It’s helped the three guys along their way. The eldest is now a mechanical engineer, the middle electrical, and looks like the youngest will be mechanical. So, we’re very appreciative as a family.
The Washtenaw 100: Is there anything in particular you’d like to communicate to the Chelsea community?
Chief Arbini: First, I want them to feel confident, to have a high trust factor, that we have the training and experience to help them in an emergency situation. And I want them to know that I remind our personnel regularly, “If you treat everyone like you would your grandmother, you really can’t go wrong.”
I tell them, “I know sometimes the job gets tough. But If you head to a call and if you just keep in mind that even though these citizens want you to take charge and solve the crisis, they also need you to treat them with respect and compassion. If you remember that, things are going to go a lot better.”
We also recognize how special Chelsea is. It’s a tight-knit community but also a welcoming community, and it’s growing. So as a department we want to make certain that we have the resources in place to service that growth, but we still want the community to know us as their neighbors. And I think that’s the way to look at change. Change will always come, but it’s important that you put your fingerprint on it so that you retain what has made a place special. A place where we at the Chelsea Area Fire Authority are honored to serve.