Home-grown talent

Firefighter and Code Compliance Officer Maurice Bruce is one of several Benton Harbor natives who have stabilized the staff at the Benton Harbor Public Safety Department.

BENTON HARBOR — Maurice “Mo” Bruce wears several hats with the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety – firefighter, fire investigator, fire inspector, code compliance officer, reserve police officer and soon, fire marshal.

But it’s Bruce’s role as a Benton Harbor native and role model to local youth that make him even more important to the department, according to Director Dan McGinnis.

“Mo is well respected by everybody,” he said. “And Mo can say some stuff that if other people said it, they would probably take offense to. Mo owns his position. He even got on me one time, but that’s what we want. He’s all about business, that’s for sure.”

Bruce said he started out as a reserve firefighter for Benton Township in 2002 and for Benton Harbor in 2011. Two years later, he became the city’s code enforcement officer with the dream to attend the police academy so he could be a public safety officer.

But in 2015, it was discovered that he was color blind.

“That stopped me from being able to get into the police academy, which crushed my dream,” Bruce said.

McGinnis said that technically, the department should have let him go.

“But by the spirit of the law and the way we have changed our personnel, our culture and our recruitment, we just had to find a place for him,” he said. “I just felt that was the fair and right thing to do.”

That led to the department putting Bruce on the path to become the city’s fire marshal. Bruce said he has already successfully completed one section of training at the Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with two more to go in December and March.

“I’m extremely proud of what he’s accomplished,” McGinnis said.

Plus, having a local fire marshal will be helpful. Right now, the city needs to call one from Lansing if one is needed, he said.

Public safety officers have to be certified firefighters and police officers. McGinnis said that just a few years ago, new officers stayed with the department about seven months before moving on, usually to better paying jobs.

“Our turnover used to be tremendous,” he said. “Last year was the first time since I’ve been here that someone was not on probation.”

With encouragement from city commissioners, the department started recruiting people from the city to send to the police academy and to fire training.

“Guys now come and stay because we’ve changed our hiring philosophy,” he said. “... We needed stability. Stability started with personnel.”

Once he’s the fire marshal, Bruce’s role will expand to include going to schools to educate students about fire safety and helping businesses develop safety plans in case there is a fire.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege