Fire Authority Looks to the Future

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The South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority board has some big issues to decide upon in the next two months. Pictured here from left to right are representatives Mike Tomlinson, from Prairie Ronde Township; Jim Deming, Wakeshma Township; Randy Smith, Brady Township; Todd Carlin, village of Schoolcraft; Bill Adams, village of Vicksburg, Don Ulsh, Schoolcraft Township.

By Sue Moore

In the old days, the “standard of coverage” for a fire department was within the radius of a mile and a half, or more importantly, how fast a horse could run without falling over dead, said Tom Wieczorek, a consultant on fire department structure. He made a presentation to the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority’s (SKCFA) board of directors in April to determine if they might want to hire him to help develop a strategic plan for the department.

“Whoever follows the members of this board, we don’t want them to have to deal with the same problems we have been facing. We want to get them resolved,” Jim Deming from Wakeshma Township stated.

During the interview, Wieczorek was charged with coming up with a document detailing the scope of work he would do, the time it would take, the deliverables, and the price. Then the board would write grants to look for the funding, Randy Smith, chairman of the SKCFA board, explained to him.

Members of the Fire Authority board told him of their expectations, their problems, and their hopes that a plan would provide. Their biggest concern seemed to be getting and keeping qualified volunteers, especially on the day shifts, Smith pointed out.

How do we recruit better? The commitment level is extreme for volunteers, even though they are paid on call. The time away from their home and family is considerable for all the training they must have.

Would the consultant be able to identify any cost savings? We need to refine the budget. Do we want to run things the same as we are today?

“There is a need to look at our structure with the officers included,” Mike Tomlinson, Prairie Ronde’s member added. Deming told Wieczorek that a promise was made to residents of Wakeshma Township that if they joined the authority, there would always be a station there, Deming, the township supervisor told the consultant. There are only about 60 to 80 calls a year out of Fulton. Currently the authority runs three separate stations, one each in the villages of Schoolcraft, Vicksburg, and Fulton. Eight-five to 95 percent of the calls are for medical services which the fire department is mandated to accompany.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are also a big concern. EMS is complex. You just can’t walk in and run it, Deming said. SKCFA contracts with the EMS services located in Vicksburg.

Their costs are not fully covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance which was formed as a nonprofit at the same time the Fire Authority was set up for the South County area.

The board members all chimed in unison, “We need to provide the best service for the least amount of money,” to end the meeting. They meet every third Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the EMS station behind the Bronson Vicksburg Outpatient Center. The public is welcome to attend.

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