Emergency service challenges discussed at city council
BAD AXE — A member of the Central Huron Ambulance board said the group is working to address current challenges and is making plans for the future of area emergency services during Monday’s Bad Axe City Council meeting.
Virginia Jias said the expenses to recruit and retain emergency medical volunteers have significantly increased, and the volunteer crew is shrinking as ambulance personnel focus on full-time jobs that offer benefits.
“The volunteers that we used to have are now fading out because people have to work other jobs, which makes it hard for scheduling,” Jias said. “So, we are trying to recruit more people and more paramedics and get them into the school program that is sponsored.”
She said it’s a battle to recruit new EMT and paramedic personnel, which makes them even more short-handed. Plus, Central Huron Ambulance is seeking a new coordinator.
Council Member Richard S. Peterson asked about who pays for training EMS personnel receive.
Jias said the bill for the exam is paid by the board of Central Huron Ambulance on the condition that personnel sign a two-year contract. The contract allows the medical personnel to not only be a certified EMT free of charge, but also requires that they are bound to serve only the local area.
“So, if they quit after one year, they have to pay back the costs of the schooling program to become certified?” Peterson asked.
“Exactly,” Jias replied. “We do that because we are trying to keep the EMT or paramedics that are going through the class in the county, so we can avoid us paying their schooling and then them taking off to another ambulance service, which has happened in the past.”
Peterson raised another question about how the scheduling works, asking whether or not personnel are assigned a 40-hour work week.
“They are volunteer, but when they have another full-time job, they hand in their schedules with the times that they can work, and we work around their schedules so we can get them hours and get their shifts covered,” Jias replied.
Mayor Jim Hicks raised eyebrows during the April 3 council meeting when he said, “the city’s ambulance service is getting in bad shape.”
City Manager Dale VanDeVusse responded by stating he has been actively working with Jias to find viable solutions to the various problems.
One of those problems is Central Huron Ambulance is currently unable to station a rig in Port Austin during the weekend, forcing ambulance crews to travel 20-25 minutes from the Bad Axe area. Those minutes can be costly during an emergency situation, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Jias said Central Huron Ambulance Service is working on the issue. It recently purchased land and built an ambulance hall at 217 Grindstone Road in Port Austin. The organization also purchased a house for the crew to stay in while on duty, but hiring and retaining people to man the hall remains a challenge.
Central Huron Ambulance is a non-profit organization that serves the City of Bad Axe, the villages of Port Austin and Kinde and Colfax, Dwight, Hume, Lincoln, Meade, Pointe Aux Barques, Sheridan, Sigel, Verona and Port Austin townships.
Adding to the struggles, she said the prices of medical supplies continue to sky rocket, which makes troubling times a little more perilous.
In addition to the problems the local EMS service has been encountering, finding volunteer firefighters has been becoming an increasingly troublesome matter, said Bad Axe Fire Chief Dave Peruski.
“Everyone is a volunteer, which makes it increasingly hard to find people to fill the gaps,” Peruski said. “The young kids are not staying here as much anymore. They are all flocking to the larger cities and towns, which is why there is a shortage.”
Currently, a firefighter is paid approximately $27 to make a run, whether they are there for 10 minutes or 10 hours.
Peruski said the fire department is not facing as much of a personnel shortage as Central Huron Ambulance is; however, the need to find committed volunteer firefighters to stay is still very much apparent.
“It gets to be a burn-out situation, I think, because eventually the volunteers get exhausted from having to continuously be making runs on and off the clock from their normal day jobs,” Peruski said.
Much like the Central Huron Ambulance Service, classes are offered to become a volunteer firefighter.
In Michigan, it is required to have finished “Firefighter One,” which is a class offered in order to become a member of the crew.
Peruski mentioned that candidates “must have some skin in the game.” The applicants who desire to go through the classes are required to pay $500 up front, but those who pass the course are reimbursed for the certification.
“Eventually, something has got to give,” Peruski said. “There are good volunteers who are willing to commit themselves to such a profession, we just need them to stay.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Central Huron Ambulance has plans to build an ambulance hall in Port Austin. The hall has been constructed, and the organization is seeking crew members to man it.