SCAFD chief proposes reinstating first responders due to wait time for ambulances

SWARTZ CREEK and CLAYTON TWP. — In December of 2019, when it was suggested that the Swartz Creek Area Fire Department reinstate emergency medical services, Fire Chief Dave Plumb felt the residents of Swartz Creek and Clayton Township were sufficiently covered by the nearby ambulance companies.

He has since changed his mind.

“When it first came on our radar … I didn’t see a need for it,” Plumb told the fire board last week. “But it threw it on the radar, just to keep an eye on.”

In the last couple years since the Genesee County Medical Control Authority changed the protocols for how ambulances and fire departments are dispatched, the number of medical calls in the Swartz Creek area has decreased, but the number of times it has taken an ambulance more than eight minutes to arrive at a call has increased “dramatically,” Plumb said.

“At times, they’ve been coming from Davison or Richfield Township,” he said.

In those instances, response times can be 15 to 18 minutes, Plumb said.

“I think, on the high end, 18-minute response times are not serving our public when we could get someone there to evaluate, give oxygen, start CPR,” he said. “I think you’ll see a lot more departments in the county do the same because response times have been completely ridiculous.”

In recent months, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, necessitating additional downtime between calls so ambulance crews can sanitize the rigs.

In 2020, there were 247 Tier 1 medical calls in Clayton Township, and 352 in the City of Swartz Creek, Plumb said. Of those, the ambulance was more than eight miles away for 35 of the calls in the township, and 44 in the city, he said.

Plumb said reinstating medical first responder service would be relatively simple and could be accomplished in as little as three months. Six of the current fire department personnel already have the necessary certification, and some also work full-time for ambulance companies.

The department has a couple of utility vehicles that could be outfitted with the essential equipment for about $800 to $1,200, the chief said. The on-call responders would take the vehicles home so he or she could respond directly to incidents when called, he said. Compensation would be the same as if the responder had answered a fire call.

There are, however, some important details still to be worked out, not the least of which is liability, and the cost of insurance to cover the municipalities. There are also policies to consider.

“This is not a new thing for this department,” said fire board member Tom Spillane, a former firefighter. “We used to do this, but we got out of it because of the cost.”

Plumb attributed the high cost to multiple firefighters responding at once. The current proposal involves sending just one.

“We have to do what’s best for the residents,” said Spillane. “But you’re going to need a lot of information. And can your budget withstand it?”

Plumb said he will continue to crunch the numbers as he prepares to present the idea to the city council and township board for approval.