2018-02-25 / Insight

Police, ambulance answer the call

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Lapeer County Sheriff Dept. Deputy Dwayne Gilley answers a call from Lapeer County Central Dispatch 
Photo by Phil Foley Lapeer County Sheriff Dept. Deputy Dwayne Gilley answers a call from Lapeer County Central Dispatch Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER COUNTY – On the worst day of your life, punching three numbers into your phone – 911 – sets a whole bunch of moving pieces in operation.

Lapeer County’s two ambulance services, MedStar and Lapeer County EMS, depending on the day, have anywhere from 17 to 19 ambulances on the road.

Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Undersheriff Jeremy Howe said his agency, the largest law enforcement group in the county, responds to an average of 90 calls a day, which adds up to 32,000 a year. He said the Lapeer Police Dept., which serves a community of nearly 9,000 residents, comes in second with roughly 9,500 calls for service annually. The Michigan State Police Post in Lapeer, which is responsible for Lapeer and St. Clair counties, said Howe, handle about 4,500 calls for service annually in the county.

On top of that, he said, four communities Imlay City, Almont, Dryden and Metamora Township all have their own 24/7 police departments. Lapeer Township has a part-time police department.

How fast a police officer can get to your home depends on where you live in the county. Howe said on an average day there are three to four general sheriff’s department patrol cars on the road. He added two villages and six of the county’s townships contract with the county for additional police service.

Mayfield Township leads the way with five additional contract deputies, followed by Oregon Township with three. Elba Township has 2.5 contract deputies, while the village of North Branch along with Deerfield and Attica townships each contract for an additional two deputies. Marathon and Arcadia townships each pay for an extra deputy during the day and the village of Clifford pays for a half-time deputy, who spends the other half of his work week in Elba Township.

When a call comes into Central Dispatch, Howe said, the most difficult part of the process begins.

“The dispatcher, as quickly as possible, has to figure out the what, when, why and where,” Howe said. And then they use the AVLS (Automatic Vehicle Location System) to find the closest police unit and send them on their way.

Howe said police rely on dispatchers to provide them with the most accurate information possible as they make possibly life-altering decisions, often at high speeds, on the way to a scene.

Barricaded gunman situations, Howe said, are the most stressful situations lawmen encounter. So far this year there have been two – both in Almont Township.

Unlike the county’s municipal police departments, the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. has a Special Response Team (SRT) and an MRAP, an armored military troop transport. In a barricaded gunman situation, “we won’t approach a house without it,” Howe said. The department also has a robot equipped with a video camera.

When a local police department calls for the SRT, Howe said, the local police chief or supervisor remains in overall charge. “It’s a team effort,” he said, noting that the Lapeer County Police Chiefs Association has developed a unified plan for dealing with things like school shootings or other mass disasters.

Responding to a call, Howe said, is not as simple as flipping on the lights and stepping on the gas. “While traveling to the call,” he said, “the deputy has a million things going on in their head.” He said in addition to determining the best route to where he’s going, deputies need to be aware of road conditions and traffic around him, while processing constant updates from dispatchers.

One of the things officers need to take into consideration is where they’ll park when then arrive on scene. Although that may seem mundane, Howe noted, “Many police officers are killed because they are ambushed as they get to the location.”

Unlike police cars, Lapeer County’s ambulances as dispatched based on the location of bases. MedStar has three in the city of Lapeer and one Almont Township and Lapeer County EMS (LCEMS) has seven bases around the county.

LCEMS Executive Director Russ Adams said his crews serve somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of Lapeer County’s 663 square miles, MedStar’s Chief Executive Officer Kolby Miller counters it’s more like 60 percent.

Neither executive would hazard a guess on what percentage of the population they serve.

While both LCEMS and MedStar keep track of their vehicles with GPS tracking systems, Central Dispatch still calls out ambulances based on their territories. Miller said in the other six counties where MedStar operates, the company has shifted to “fluid deployment” which he said is a “better, safer way” of assigning ambulances to calls.

Adams said LCEMS is constantly playing a game of musical chairs as ambulances are sent on calls during the day. For instance, if the Imlay City ambulance is transporting a crash victim to the hospital, the Lapeer ambulance shifts to a mid-point on Imlay City Road near Lake Pleasant Road and the Elba Township ambulance will pick up calls farther east. He noted in January alone, the Lapeer ambulance responded to 82 calls, which meant the Elba ambulance shifted its location 160 times, on top of the 90 calls it responded to.

Adams said in addition to the seven ambulances his agency has on the road at any given moment, it has four more back-up units that can be staffed by supervisors and off duty staff in major emergency. If that’s not enough, he said, the county has mutual aid agreements with Oxford, Brandon Township, Marlette and Mayville.

Referring to MedStar, Adams said, “We don’t see eye to eye politically, but when it comes to treating people, we do.” Miller added, “We all got into this business for the same reason.”

Last year the two agencies participated in four mass casualty drills with local law enforcement, including a mock tornado at Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area; a domestic assault at Suncrest; and a school shooting in North Branch.

Miller said once an ambulance crew punches in an address into their Garmin, Murphy’s Law is their biggest concern. “Our clinical training is strong. We’re very prepared,” he said, but “There are all kinds of odd ball things that can go wrong.”

There are scores of things they have not control over, such as will they have to wait for a patient to be extricated from a vehicle or will the steps leading to a home support the weight of two EMT’s and a patient.

Adams said for all ambulance crews it’s mainly a question of being mentally prepared before the call comes.

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