Grand Ledge is facing an emergency responder shortage crisis affecting much of the rest of the country.
Grand Ledge Area Emergency Services Authority Chief Rodney VanDeCasteele said there has been a shortage of volunteer and career firefighters. The lack of firefighters comes despite community support for the department, including funding a new fire engine, he said.
“Being a firefighter is not all the glory people think, the pay is not substantial, hours are long and the training for such a low-paying occupation is extremely difficult,” said VanDeCasteele
Angela Madden, executive director for the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, said a smaller community like Grand Ledge already many have fewer paramedics, EMTs and firefighters, which can make it harder for small departments to absorb staffing shortages.
Fewer emergency calls early in the pandemic — as some people avoided medical care for issues that were not immediately life-threatening — has now led to a spike in volume in some places, putting further strain in first responders and forcing some agencies to priority calls or delay transportations, Madden said.
“Any community deserves a high quality and distinct response to emergencies, but some calls will be delayed because we do not have enough staff to move patients to another facility while promptly responding to emergencies,” Madden said. “So what happens is patients who schedule appointments for things such as dialysis, which is extremely important and time-sensitive, now find it more difficult to schedule appointments with our transportation staff who are also responding to emergencies.”
The Grand Ledge area fire authority on average receives about 25,000 emergency calls per year.
Robert Doty, who served on the authority board for three years, said the fire department does not have enough staff for new engines. He said staff is down at least 75% compared to years prior. The authority has close to 40 staffed firefighters and only 10 of them being full time.
“Training is too hard, you almost have to go to college and get a degree to be a firefighter now,” Doty said. “Rodney is really struggling to keep up. I mean he is holding his own, but there are times we have to involve Delta Township because of the lack of staff.”
The same problem exists for EMTs and paramedics, Madden said.
“We have people working 24 hours and in that time they get 12-15 calls,” said Madden. “Think about the time it takes to finish each call, then dropping off the patient, cleaning the vehicle, restocking the equipment and then immediately responding to another call, to find out some of your patients don’t even have health insurance to cover that already expended cost. You can honestly make more working at McDonald’s.”