LANSING, MI — Saginaw's deputy fire marshal called yesterday a "great day for the fire service," after visiting the capitol to witness Governor Rick Snyder sign a package of bills aimed at increasing criminal penalties relating to arson.
|(Left to right) Saginaw's Deputy Fire Marshal Ralph Martin, State Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, Governor Rick Snyder, and Saginaw Fire Lt. Aileen Pettinger gather Tuesday, March 5, for the signing of a package of bills aimed at increasing criminal penalties for arsonists
Snyder's signature, presented during the ceremony on Tuesday, March 5, was only ceremonial, as the package of bills was already signed into law in January by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
House Bills 5692 - 5695, sponsored by state Reps. John Walsh, Kevin Cotter, Joseph Graves and Stacy Erwin Oakes, are now Public Acts 531 – 534.
State Rep. Erwin Oakes, who represents Saginaw, invited Martin, along with Saginaw Fire Department Lt. Aileen Pettinger to the signing ceremony.
In a press release, Erwin Oakes - a Democrat - expressed that she was pleased to come together with Republicans in an effort to get the package of bills passed.
"I'm very happy we were able to come together in a bipartisan manner to enact these reforms on behalf of the people of Michigan," said Oakes, in the prepared statement. "Arson is a pervasive issue in our state. An issue we cannot take lightly. Locally, the City of Saginaw combats nearly 200 arsons every year. This legislation will help protect our residents and emergency responders by reducing the prevalence of arson in our local communities."
Information from Erwin Oakes' office states that the new laws will "place new felony penalties within the sentencing guidelines, including: increasing the maximum terms of imprisonment, revising the descriptions for several crime categories, such as, first and second-degree arson, and deleting obsolete penalty descriptions."
According to Martin, Rep. Erwin Oakes has been very accessible to the Saginaw Fire Department, as well as the rest of the community.
"She's been very cooperative," he said. "She has come to the fire department to talk with us."
Martin said he sees the new laws, relating to arson, as important for the entire state, but especially important to the Saginaw area.
"This is very important in Saginaw, in particular, because we see a high number of arsons - much higher than it should be," he said. "I have no doubt that this will make an impact. Arsonists may think twice now before committing an arson."
According to the Michigan Arson Prevention Council, approximately one out of every three fires in the state of Michigan during 2011 was the result of arson, or considered 'suspicious.' The council lists the total cost of the arson-related and suspicious fires at $166 million.
"Arson costs the loss of lives, the loss of property, injuries to firefighters, and blight," said Martin. "I think (Rep. Erwin Oakes) has seen this first hand."
On top of a warning to potential arsonists regarding felony charges they can face, Martin said he also wants to remind the public of basic safety measures.
"Make sure to stay safe, check your smoke detectors and always practice fire safety," he said.
For Saginaw residents who do experience an incident regarding fire, Martin wants to remind them that their local fire department will be there to help, despite talk of pink slips and potential layoffs.
"We are here to serve the community as best we can. We are still responding and doing our job to the best of our ability."