Mich. FD requests ambulance study for possible expansion

Rescue and emergency medical calls already make up for 2,431 out of 3,164 in 2018 of the fire department runs

Jordan Travis
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — There's a reason two different ambulances respond to many medical emergencies in Traverse City.

The city's fire department paramedics respond first, but transport is usually left to North Flight EMS, city fire Chief Jim Tuller said. He's asking city commissioners for $32,300 to pay TriData LLC to study the feasibility of the department providing transport services, according to a memo.

The city's fire department paramedics respond first, but transport is usually left to North Flight EMS. (Photo/North Flight EMS)
The city's fire department paramedics respond first, but transport is usually left to North Flight EMS. (Photo/North Flight EMS)

Expanding the service would require growing the department's ranks, Tuller said.

"If we had more people on staff running medical calls and helping out via primary transport, then when we had a structure fire or major (hazardous material) call or water rescue call, then we'd have more personnel to accomplish a response to those types of calls as well," he said.

The department has 24 employees, with another proposed in the July 2019 through June 2020 budget, for a chronically short-staffed shift.

Commissioners will consider the request for the study Monday, which is their deadline to approve that draft city-wide budget as well.

The company would examine every aspect of what the department would need to earn state certification to transport more patients, Tuller said. Traverse City ambulances already take some patients to Munson Medical Center if North Flight EMS can't, including 31 people in 2018, city fire department figures show.

North Flight EMS handles billing in those cases for a fee, Tuller said — those payments totaled $1,100 in July 2017 through June 2018, city Treasurer Bill Twietmeyer said.

The study should be complete in four months, according to the memo. It should detail the costs and revenue potentials, among many other things, Tuller said.

Building out the department's ambulance services would take several months more, if the city so chooses, Tuller said.

Rescue and emergency medical calls already make up for a large portion of fire department runs — 2,431 out of 3,164 in 2018, according to the department's annual report, although not every call requires transport.

Roger Putman, a city commissioner, said he trusts Tuller's judgement in making the request. He believes city fire expanding the service could lead to more efficiency than the current arrangement.

Traverse City's agreement with North Flight EMS dates to 2002, city documents show.

Mark Deponio, North Flight EMS president, said he's proud of the work the service's paramedics do on a daily basis in and around Traverse City, and beyond.

Deponio understands the appearance of inefficiency when people see two different ambulances at one emergency call. Response levels are tougher to provide in rural areas and many calls take more than two people to handle, so there's collaboration between first responders and transporting agencies, he said.

Tuller is on the agency's leadership advisory committee, and there's always opportunity to look at how North Flight EMS operates and cooperates, Deponio said. He expects the city will ask its partner agency to work with it on the study.

"We're interested in exploring anything that makes things better or more efficient, as long as it doesn't diminish the quality of care or service that citizens presently have," he said.

Commissioner Brian McGillivary said he's interested in what the study will find. He wants to see the city transition to a model more like what neighboring departments follow.

Blair Township bills residents' insurance companies for ambulance transport, Blair Director of Emergency Services Eric Somsel said. AccuMed Group, the township's billing service, can verify if a resident is uninsured, in which case the township won't charge for services.

Residents get a break because they pay a tax to fund township advanced life support services, Somsel said — the 2019 rate is 1.4793 mills, township Supervisor Nicole Blonshine said.

Otherwise, the township bills insurance first, and the patient second for whatever remains, Somsel said.

Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department recovers costs for its calls, department Chief Pat Parker said — $350 to respond to a vehicle crash, for example. The department bills insurance first and waives whatever's left for Acme, East Bay and Garfield township residents — the department's service area, he said.

Traverse City Fire Department serves more than the roughly 15,000 residents in city limits, McGillivary said. Its paramedics also serve the tens of thousands more who work there every day, and the hundreds of thousands more who visit each summer, he said.

"It's a cost, it's a fact, it's a way of life, and this is one way we can get a little bit of reimbursement," he said.

Closed session coming

TRAVERSE CITY — A hearing that gets to the heart of whether Traverse City's tall buildings vote is legal is coming at the end of June.

There are other goings-on in 326 Land Company's legal challenge against the city's charter amendment, said Peter Worden, Traverse City's outside counsel. He's asking to speak with city commissioners in a closed session Monday, and expects no major decisions to come of the meeting, he said.

Local nonprofit Save Our Downtown asked voters in 2016 to impose a requirement that any new construction taller than 60 feet would require a citywide vote, which voters approved. Tom McIntyre, 326 Land Company's managing partner, challenged the requirement's legality in 2017, but 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power said the challenge was premature.

Voters in 2018 rejected a request from the company to let city commissioners approve its special land use permit for a 100-foot-tall building on State Street, and the company revived its legal challenge.

Jay Zelenock, an attorney for Save Our Downtown, said there's court-ordered mediation coming prior to a June 28 hearing.

Power is set to consider on that day whether the vote requirement should be tossed on constitutional grounds, as previously reported. Worden and Zelenock also said they expect to file their own requests to throw out the company's legal challenge.

Worden said it's possible that city leaders on Monday could pick one or more among themselves to represent the city commission at the session.


©2019 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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