Chelsea Area Fire Authority is looking to address a pressing issue

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There’s a glaring issue locally, according to Chelsea Area Fire Authority Fire Chief Robert Arbini, and it involves EMS (Emergency Medical Service) and transporting people in need of medical help to the hospital.

At the Sylvan Township Board meeting on Dec. 7, during the public comment portion, Arbini asked if he could address the township board and the citizens in attendance at the virtual meeting. He wanted to discuss a big challenge right now in emergency response, specifically with the ambulance service seeing a decrease in staff.

Arbini said Chelsea and other fire departments around the county are considered non-transporting agencies, so if anyone calls 911 and it’s a medical emergency, CAFA will show up to lend support but do not transport the person in need to the hospital.

The issue with emergency medical transporting is a wider one impacting many around the state and country, Arbini said. The challenge is not having enough employees who are trained as basic EMTs and paramedics, who can meet the needs to safely transport people to a hospital.

The team at CAFA is composed of Basic EMTs and do go on calls, Arbini said, and can get to the scene and stabilize anyone in need while also getting any necessary information.

However, the local issue with transportation is ambulance provider, HVA (Huron Valley Ambulance), which is one of those agencies struggling with employees. Arbini said they are down a considerable amount of staff.

He said he recently sat down with an HVA vice president and was told that if their parent company could hire people right now they would, in the range of 300 people.

This is impacting CAFA and its service area.

Arbini cited examples of recent calls where CAFA was at an emergency scene with a person in need, but had to wait for an ambulance to get there. He said they have had times at a scene where they waited up to an hour.

He said this issue is happening around the county, including in Ann Arbor.

A local example he gave involved a stroke victim. The transporting issue at the scene saw an HVA ambulance, because of the bad weather, get its back axle buried in the front yard, which then got stuck and it couldn’t get out. The victim was there with CAFA as well, waiting for another ambulance to come from Jackson County on snowy roads in bad shape.

If this type of an emergency situation happens in the future, Arbini said they want to be prepared. This is where a proper vehicle comes in. It can be on the scene and able to safely transport those in need to the hospital, which would could also help alleviate some of the burden on the system as it is now.

CAFA is now looking to purchase a proper vehicle resembling an ambulance for their service area. 

This will give them, Arbini said, the ability that if the ambulance provider can’t be there in a timely fashion, then CAFA can safely transport a person to the hospital, whether it’s for something that can be handled in Chelsea or if it needs to go to the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

He said it’s about wanting to provide a better service for a glaring need.

Again noting that this is a wider challenge, Arbini said there was big meeting recently with regional agencies to discuss these issues and pose possible solutions.

Until a good fix comes, CAFA expects to have the vehicle in the next six to eight weeks. They need to order it and get it licensed.

If the need persists, then Arbini said CAFA could look to take a phased approach: first getting the vehicle and being prepared if there’s an emergency need, and then maybe somewhere down the road looking at the approach of being its own a transporting agency.

Donald Osborne, a CAFA board member, also spoke at the Sylvan meeting. He said at this point it will not cost CAFA additional money to get the vehicle. He said this has been an issue on the board’s radar for a couple of years and its getting worse.

Osborne also cited a recent timing issue when a person with a fractured hip waited over an hour for an ambulance. He said they believe getting a vehicle is a step in the right direction to better serve the community.

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