Ambulance Service Celebrates 20 Years With Open House

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Staff of the ambulance service with their new vehicles in the background are from left to right front row: Jake Kuiper, Mike Nemeth, Chris Koeneke. In back from left to right: Amber Louis, Vicki White, Ally West.

By Sue Moore

Ever wonder why the ambulances stationed at football games and other area community activities run their engines while they’re parked? The answer – and answers to questions you might not have thought of – are waiting at the Ambulance Service’s 20th Anniversary Open House. The event will take place at its building at 13318 N. Boulevard behind the hospital in Vicksburg, from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, October 17.

Two gleaming new ambulances will be on display that day along with a short program at 4 p.m. to honor a long-time employee: Anna Brown, 100, served the ambulance service for nearly half of that century. The new vehicles will be painted dark blue and gold, a departure from the usual yellow or green that the South County Emergency Medical Service (SCEMS) has been sporting since it opened for business in 1995. They cost a hefty $186,000. They’re worth every penny according to Wes Schmitt, the service’s president.

The new ambulances are gasoline powered. That should make them easier to repair than their diesel-powered predecessors, although they still get under 10 miles to the gallon. The interior is outfitted with locked cabinets for drugs – paramedics hold the keys – a power cot with push buttons to raise and lower the patient, plus a powered stair chair that has treads on it for going up and down staircases.

One of the old ambulances gave out the very next day that the Ambulance Service’s board ordered the new equipment in June. The delivery allows coverage at the Vicksburg home football games. The school pays a stipend for the service although it doesn’t cover the actual cost, Schmitt said. The agency will keep the remaining older vehicle, which was purchased secondhand in 2004 for reserve. The board would like to bid on doing hospital transfers and will utilize the second ambulance for that work, Schmitt said.

Schoolcraft maintained its own ambulance service previous to 1995, as did Vicksburg. Both services were staffed by volunteers, some of whom had emergency medical training (EMT). At that time, Schoolcraft was short on help and used a pager system for its calls. Vicksburg had a base office above what is now Rawlinson’s Appliance building so it was decided the two needed to join forces. Thus the new service was formed, but not without some overriding concerns from Schoolcraft residents.

At this same time, the state of Michigan was beginning to clamp down on volunteer ambulance services: New requirements called for an EMT and a more highly trained paramedic to be onboard on all runs. Even more crippling financially, was a requirement that a service had to pay everyone – no more volunteers. Nancy Decker was one of those volunteers who was working full time for Vicksburg schools and giving another 60 hours to the ambulance service.

Decker, whose parents were Ralph and Anna Brown, the centenarian, began serving as soon as she finished her first aid class on March 1, 1971. She didn’t want to get paid. “My dad put me right in the car (ambulance) and I’ve been there ever since. With one slight exception. I fell at church in 2014 and broke my femur while the Mass was still going on. I told the ambulance guys not to rush as I didn’t want them coming with the sirens blaring and the lights going to interrupt the church service. I’m back in the car now but mostly for football games and other community service activities. It’s harder for me to climb into the rig than it was before.”

The South County Emergency Medical Service answers two kinds of calls: Advanced Life Support, ALS, r Basic Life Support, BLS. Crews are required to use the sirens and flashers for an ALS call along with the first responders from the South Kalamazoo County Fire Department. The BLS calls can go much more quietly but it is the dispatch controller who makes this decision, according to Vicki White, the ambulance service’s office manager.

The ambulance service offers a membership service at $40 per year, according to White. People who use the service a lot can benefit by paying the subscription rate White said. Insurance doesn’t always pay out the full cost of the ride to the hospital, so having the membership is a good hedge against this possibility, White pointed out.

And why does the ambulance burn up that extra fuel idling? To keep the drugs on board at a constant temperature.

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