Alpena Township formulating plans for fire department | News, Sports, Jobs


News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Alpena Township Fire Department Chief Dave Robbins updates the Board of Trustees on how the two fire stations will be staffed for the short term. The board voted Monday, to not accept a contract with Alpena and to rebuild its fire department. Currently, it only has three full-time employees, Robbins and a little more than a dozen paid-on-call responders.

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ALPENA — Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward.

That is the philosophy the Alpena Township Board of Trustees is taking in rebuilding its fire department.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the trustees voted to reduce its department’s licensure from basic life support-non-transfer to medical first responder.

The current BLS license requires the township to have firefighter EMTs on staff. The new license will lower the qualifications of the employees allowed to man the stations.

It is a move that limits what first responders are allowed to do, but also opens the door to more potential candidates to help fill out a short handed staff.

The move came after the board voted to not enter into a service contract with the City of Alpena that would have provided advanced life support response in the township by the city fire department.

Medical first responders are limited in what they can do in terms of care at a scene when compared to an EMT or a paramedic, but can still provide needed first aid at an emergency until more highly trained help arrives.

They will no longer be able to administer EpiPen injections to help with allergic reactions or Albuterol, which helps with breathing issues.

Trustee Cash Kroll said the long-term goal for the department is the same as it always has been: to provide the best possible service to residents. He said the hope is medical first responders take jobs with the township and take classes to become emergency medical technicians.

When there are enough EMTs on staff, the township would then look to bump its license level back up.

“It will allow us to get other candidates in the door,” Kroll said. “The mission has not changed, and we are going to provide a service to our community. As an organization, we have to step back and we have to take a closer look at things. There needs to be a short-term and a long-term goal and that is what we are going to iron out.”

The state would need to sign off on the lowering of the department’s license, but the board didn’t think it would be a cumbersome process.

For the immediate future, the township is going to man its two stations with one employee, for a 24-hour shift and utilize paid-on-call personnel to help assist on as many runs as possible.

Township Fire Chief Dave Robbins said he intends to work eight-hour shifts to handle the administrative part of the department. Employees can work up to 48 hours straight, but that isn’t ideal, Robbins said.

The number of paid-on-call personnel the township can count on is up in the air too.

According to Township Clerk Michele Palevich, there are 19 paid-on call employees on the roster. Of those, Palevich said, four haven’t participated in emergencies since 2019 and are considered inactive. Others have gone months without going on any runs.

Robbins said three have reached out to him and pledged to help.

Trustee Steve Lappan, who voted against the city contract, said in order for the department to be successful, paid-on-call first responders must be counted on, and asked Robbins to reach out to each of them to find out their intentions moving forward.

“The current schedule is going to lead to burnout relatively quickly, so the paid-on-call (personnel) will be a critical component in this rebuilding process,” Lappan said. “We need strong support from them, as we learn to live with one another once again.”

Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe voted for the contract with the city. He said there wasn’t a viable option other than it, and now the township is scrambling to solve problems without a plan in place.

“What we did today is a significant step back and we are coming at this unfortunately from a position of having zero plan,” Skibbe said. “There was no contingency plan that was formulated by the majority that voted against the contract.”

Since January, the city has provided emergency response from the north station, but will no longer provide that service beginning today. The proposed contract would have had the city staff both stations with a pair of city firefighters. It would have also had an advanced life support ambulance at each station, for about half of the projected cost for the township to operate the department on its own.

Township residents approved 10-year renewal, for 1.5 mills for fire department operations, equipment, and training in August 2018. That millage will generate $506,243 a year. A few months later they approved a 0.65-mill, five-year tax proposal to be used for new rescue vehicles and other needed equipment.

It’s estimated it would cost about $800,000 for the 2021-22 budget year, for the township to run the department on its own, which is about $300,000 a year over what the millage brings in.

The trustees have tossed the idea of asking voters for more money, but no millage plans are currently on the table.

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