Fire chief, residents challenge township’s ambulance contract

GR Township has had pact with Rockford Ambulance since 2001 that diminishes need for local response.
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Residents of Grand Rapids Township are calling into question the township’s utilization of a private ambulance company to respond to medical emergencies in lieu of the fire department.

At the Sept. 15 meeting of the township’s board, resident Katy Morse spoke to the board demanding more transparency into the township’s contract with Rockford Ambulance.

“I feel a lot of people who are involved in the township have a tight circle, and I want to make sure the taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately,” Morse said. “I don’t feel they’re ensuring we’re getting the best service for the best price.”

The board voted on an amendment to the township’s existing contract with Rockford Ambulance on Aug. 18.

The amendment to the contract allows for an additional advanced life support unit on the north side of the township to supplement the existing unit on the south side. The unit on the south side is stationed to respond to the township 24/7, while the new unit will only be utilized during peak times.

According to the minutes from the meeting, Township Supervisor Michael DeVries was not a part of that vote. DeVries disclosed he has family members who serve on the board for Rockford Ambulance, and for this reason, he recused himself from voting on the amendment to avoid potential conflict.

At a later meeting, former Grand Rapids Township Fire Chief John Lovins expressed a desire for the board to further utilize the fire department for medical calls. Lovins recently stepped down from his position as fire chief.

“We can help Rockford in a lot of ways that would make their job easier, make it more efficient and make patient care better,” Lovins told the board on Sept. 1. “I do not want to start an ambulance company, but I do believe our fire department is being underutilized, because we are medical first responders. We can provide first aid, we can do CPR … we can do the necessities before an advanced support unit gets there.”

DeVries declined to offer further comment on Lovins’ departure. Lovins also could not be reached for comment at press time.

During the Sept. 15 township board meeting, resident Elizabeth Helminski asked the board to update the minutes from the Sept. 1 meeting, where she asked the board to consider allowing certified firefighters to support emergency medical calls.

Helminski also disclosed to the Business Journal that she is running for board trustee with the township.

Grand Rapids Township approved a contract with Rockford Ambulance in 2001. The original contract had the company station an advanced life support unit in the southern portion of the township to respond to a higher frequency of medical calls in that area.

DeVries said the original purpose of the contract was to better position the township to respond to a high number of medical calls.

“We have a lot of senior facilities,” DeVries said. “Eighty percent of our calls for medical service came from the southern (portion) of our township. Most of those were senior-related.”

By 2020, the township saw a shift to an almost 50-50 split in medical calls between the south side and the north side of the township, DeVries said. He attributed this shift to new residential developments on the north side as well as the location of Spectrum Health’s urgent care facility.

“That puts additional strains on the unit we have in our township, so we put an additional life support unit and a paramedic on the north end,” he said.

When asked whether the township would conduct a study as Helminski requested, DeVries said the township’s website has multiple studies extending back to 2002 showing numbers for call type and location, as well as a heat map of the township showing where the highest frequency of 911 incidents occur in the township.

“You can see why we’re very concerned about making sure the first responders are the highest level paramedic with a life support ambulance,” DeVries said, “and we have all that data online so our residents can look at it.”

According to the heat map for Q1 2020, the fire department responded to 90 incidents, 12 of which were medical calls — seven were for mutual aid, four were for personal injury accidents and one was responding to a pin-in accident.

The fire department also responded to 37 of a total 2,423 medical calls in 2019, according to township documents.

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