Highland Park's fire department fully staffed for the first time since 1985

Screenshot 2024-04-19 at 7.31.35 PM.png
Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-19 19:32:52-04

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — At a time when public safety jobs are as hard as ever to fill, the Highland Park Fire Department can say something that not many can: they are fully staffed for the first time in nearly 40 years.

“This fire department worked together to get a full roster,” said Mayor Glenda McDonald. “And that alone shows tenacity. It shows the strength of this city.”

Highland Park Mayor Glenda McDonald

The announcement of a full force — there are 34 full-time employees at HPFD — wouldn't have seemed likely only a few years ago.

The department has been plagued with challenges from not enough equipment to failing fire rigs and more.

Today, Erik Hollowell is fire chief. But 34 years ago as a 16-year-old, he started in Highland Park as a cadet. His career here had plenty of dark days, none worse than the payless paydays of the early 2000s.

“The lowest point is probably when the state took over, and they totally stopped paying,” said Hollowell. “That was like rock bottom.”

But Hollowell never left, even when other offers came.

Highland Park Fire Chief Erik Hollowell

"This is probably going to be like an old cliché saying it, but I don’t do it for the money,” he said. “It’s my town."

The department reached full staffing, in part, by holding on to veteran firefighters like Sgt. Mario Brownlee.

“If you catch a fire, the citizens are so appreciative,” Brownlee said. “You’d run through walls for them. I think that motivated us during hard times.”

Highland Park Fire Sgt. Mario Brownlee

But they also recruited younger blood to help fill the ranks, like 21-year-old Michael Boger.

“I’ve known what this station has been in the past and they’ve come a long way,” Boger said. “The mayor has done a lot to help out the city. It’s only going to go up from here.”

Screenshot 2024-04-19 at 7.11.27 PM.png

Shy Wagoner has lived in Highland Park for most her life and will never the day last year when her home caught fire.

She lost her pets and everything else inside her home, but thanks to the fire department, her family was OK.

“They did everything they could when we had our fire,” she said. “To know that people are coming into work and do those same things for someone else, I think that’s amazing.”

Screenshot 2024-04-19 at 7.15.05 PM.png

To be clear, Highland Park leaders know there’s plenty of progress still to be made in their city. But this news is something they can build on and they plan to.

“It’s time that we get good news in the city,” McDonald said. “These little small wins end up creating big wins.”