Mich. Community Looks For Fire Dept. Paramedics

Aug. 1, 2013
Peninsula Township officials want to bolster the community's ambulance service by adding advanced life support personnel.

Aug. 01--TRAVERSE CITY -- Peninsula Township officials may try to swing a deal with Traverse City to obtain paramedics in an effort to upgrade the township's ambulance service and add advanced life support personnel.

Steve Ball, a Traverse City firefighter and paramedic who's also a member of Peninsula Township's Fire Board, suggested using Traverse City paramedics to supplement the township's ambulance service. Ball said the fire board will discuss whether to seek a proposal from Traverse City officials when board members meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the township hall.

"It would be an instant benefit to Peninsula because we could do (advance life support) tomorrow using a city paramedic," Ball said.

Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes isn't so keen on Ball's plan. He suspects it originated with the city firefighter's union and is an effort to protect their jobs.

Estes wants to dissolve the city's fire department and join with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, which contracts with North Flight EMS for ALS service.

"If they are coming for a cooperative effort, the city is going to have to get something substantial in the deal," Estes said.

Peninsula residents don't receive the same level of service as residents in and around Traverse City because they have to wait for an advance life support ambulance to travel through the city and make its way up the peninsula, said Dave Sanger, who chairs Peninsula's fire board. The problem isn't outfitting the township's two basic life support ambulances; instead, it's having a trained paramedic available to staff ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It would provide us quite a resource being able to utilize their certified advance life support medics," Sanger said. "We have two firefighters in class right now to get certified, but they won't finish until next year ... and that's still not enough."

Paramedics are able to tackle more advanced procedures than emergency medical technicians who staff basic life support ambulances. They are able to conduct cardiac monitoring, advanced airways support, and administer IVs and medications.

"As a paramedic I can tell you five minutes makes a huge difference, especially for a cardiac case or a serious event," Ball said.

It can take a North Flight EMS ambulance 20 minutes or more to reach a victim, so Peninsula's ambulance currently takes a victim down the peninsula toward Traverse City until meeting a North Flight EMS ambulance from Munson Healthcare. At that point a North Flight paramedic climbs into in the Peninsula ambulance with a treatment case and both ambulances head to the hospital.

"From a logical perspective, you have to ask why do we have two ambulances responding," Sanger said. "Doesn't it make more sense to have ALS be the first responder?"

Ball said a contract could range from money for service similar to the city's arrangement to staff Cherry Capital Airport with a firefighter, or the deal could include a swap of personnel.

Under the latter scenario, the city could send a paramedic to Peninsula and in return draw from Peninsula's pool of part-time firefighters to fill the slot. Using part-timers would allow the city to reduce overtime costs.

Traverse City Commissioner Jody Bergman said she'd be open to looking at a contract with Peninsula.

"But I have a feeling it will be a hard thing to push forward or take very far with the Metro proposal still looming," she said.

Copyright 2013 - The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

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