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Hazel Park, Madison Heights

January 16, 2013

Stats show EMS runs still high for fire departments

More people eschewing family doctor for emergency care

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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A moment of quiet at Station No. 1 of the Madison Heights Fire Department, located near 13 Mile and John R. The MHFD saw an increase in calls for emergency medical service in 2012, a trend also observed by the Hazel Park Fire Department.

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Stats out of the Madison Heights and Hazel Park fire departments show few changes between 2011 and 2012, but among the trends are an increasing percentage of runs being used for emergency medical service.

Hazel Park’s new fire chief, Mark Karschnia, noted that Hazel Park has seen a drop in population throughout the years, due to the housing crisis, from 21,000 in 1993 to about 16,400 in 2012, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

And yet, usage of the fire department is such that overall runs remain consistent with years past: 2,610 total runs last year, just 19 fewer than the year before.

“The fact our population is decreasing but our runs stay the same indicates an increase in run numbers per capita,” Karschnia said. “Fewer people are using the resources more, and we’re doing it with fewer guys now.” The department has a current staff of 20, marshal and chief included, when, at the maximum, they would have 23. 

The portion of runs that constitutes EMS — calls for medical reasons — has increased; in 2012, there were 2,111 EMS runs, while in 2011, there were 2,068.

“You have true medical emergencies, like cardiac arrest or difficulty breathing, but then you also have cases where people don’t have a family physician, or with seniors, someone has pain at 3 in the morning, and with no one to talk to, the pain is worse. I know from experience, when you wake up at night and your back’s sore, it’s a lot worse than when your back’s sore at 6 p.m. and you’re watching TV and distracted.”

The Fire Department never takes chances, he said, and they don’t want to discourage people from calling for medical support. But the sheer volume of EMS runs can be a bit of a challenge, he said.

“I imagine that, with the economy being the way it is, people are using ERs more than family physicians because it’s a greater convenience for them,” Karschnia said.

Greg Lelito, now wrapping his first year as fire chief in Madison Heights, had similar observations to make, regarding run numbers and the use of EMS.

Total runs in Madison Heights rose to 3,824 in 2012, up from 3,787 the year before. The EMS portions rose accordingly: 2,701 and 2,608, respectively. In the last five years, run volume has increased 15 percent.

“Due to the situation with people losing their jobs and their healthcare, they’re relying more and more on 911 being primary care, calling an ambulance to take them to the hospital, when normally they would’ve saw the family doctor,” Lelito said. “They don’t have that option anymore, so they’ve been using the ER as their primary care.

“We have quite a significant number of runs where it’s not a life-threatening situation, and we’re an older community now — people are aging, and it’s just a different way people are using the system. There’s more demand on EMS because of age.”

The Madison Heights department has had its share of manning difficulties lately. While the department was able to hire three new employees, one at the end of December 2011 and another two in May of 2012, they’ve endured some injuries lately that have reduced each of their three platoons to the six-man minimum manning, instead of the maximum eight. If all positions were filled, three fully staffed platoons — plus the swingman, marshal and chief — would put the department at 27, overall. 

Arson fires were up in Madison Heights last year, with nine in 2012: triple that of the previous year. Of the nine, four were vehicle fires. Lelito said people might be lighting their cars on fire because they can’t make the payment, or maybe to get insurance.

Hazel Park had only one arson fire in 2012, and none the year before.

On a darker note, Madison Heights had a fatal fire in 2012. A 59-year-old Madison Heights man died after a fire broke out in his home, and he re-entered the building for reasons unknown. The incident occurred around 12:40 a.m. in the 26000 block of Alden, near 11 Mile and Dequindre, on Oct. 28. The fire appeared to have started in the kitchen and adjacent utility room.

Hazel Park had no fatal fires in 2012 but did close out 2011 with a fatal fire at the Woodward Heights Manor apartment complex.

Runs involving hazardous conditions/materials saw a decrease in both cities between 2011 and 2012, from 168 to 133 in Madison Heights, and 105 to 95 in Hazel Park. Lelito and Karschnia both observed that this might be due to milder weather, meaning fewer storms to bring down branches and wires.

Lelito said that exploring the consolidation of services will be in the cards in 2013.

“I’m looking to see if we could get more shared services with neighboring communities, to see what we could do together to increase the manning, to make operations more efficient,” Lelito said. It might not be practical, he conceded, and certainly not easy, but “that’s one thing we’ll strive to do.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.