Chris Bennett does a lot as an emergency medical technician with the Mayville Area Ambulance Service, but once in a while is perfectly happy to make a patient a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The reason, Bennett said, is that it’s satisfying for him to help someone realize the effects of eating after he or she felt so bad from low blood sugar, they dialed 911. He said that extra little bit of attention is the kind of thing that sets Mayville Area Ambulance Service (MAAS) apart from others — and is largely the reason it celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016.
“You see a lot of people often, so you build a really good reputation with people,” said Bennett. “I’ll get these patients I’ve never met before, they know my parents, they know my grandparents — they know who I am before I even walk in the door.”
MAAS has always been about community.
In 1976, it started with donations and grants from those who felt the area needed an actual ambulance service instead of relying on funeral parlors in Caro, Vassar, Marlette, or Lapeer.
Today, MAAS is licensed by the state of Michigan Department of Community Health as a Life Support Agency (LSA), at the Basic Life Support (BLS) level, meaning responders can’t administer IVs or pass drugs other than aspirin or an epinephrine autoinjector (commonly known by the brand name EpiPen).
MAAS is contracted to serve 134 square miles mostly in Tuscola County — an area consisting of the village of Mayville, and the townships of Fremont, Dayton, and Rich (Lapeer County). A representative of each community sits on the four-person MAAS board of directors.
The number of “patient encounters” has more than doubled in the last 20 years — a time of particular change for MAAS that’s included purchase of new ambulance vehicles, the organization’s first Automated External Defibrillator (AED) in 1998, new radio and paging systems around 2000, and much more.
It’s all been necessary, too, said James Welke, executive director, MAAS, due to a considerable increase in demand for service.
“When we first started, if we had 20 runs a month, that was a lot,” Welke said. “Now were up to at least 50 runs a month.”
In 2015, MAAS had the highest number in its history with 586. Concurrently, the population of Tuscola County overall has been shrinking (down about 4,000 in the last decade, according to county estimates).
Welke attributes the increased need in service despite the decreasing population to an aging population.
The average age of MAAS patients in 2015 was 60, according to its operational report for the year.
About 56 percent of MAAS patients were 65 or older in 2015.
The most common emergency was identified as “breathing problems”, followed by “fall victim” and “sick person.”
The village of Mayville accounted for the most calls in 2015 with 167, followed by 148 in Fremont Township, and 106 in Dayton Township.
McLaren Regional Hospital in Lapeer accounted for about 29 percent of the MAAS’ patient destinations in 2015, followed by Covenant Medical Center-Cooper in Saginaw (12 percent), and Caro Community Hospital (10 percent).
But the stats behind MAAS don’t mean a whole lot to EMTs like Bennett.
Bennett is one of 235 paid on-call volunteers to have served with MAAS through the years. He’s been with the organization for five years while his mother, Suzette Bennett, has been with MAAS for 22 years.
“I’ve been here about five years now, I’ve seen a ton, I’ve seen a lot of good, I’ve seen a lot of bad, but the good thing is every day we get to go out and help people,” Bennett said. “Sometimes it’s small things and sometimes it’s big things, but every day we get to help somebody.”
Bennett explained what he likes about being an EMT with MAAS as he performed a “rig check.”
Part of the daily routine at MAAS, a rig check consists of going through bags and cabinets on board each of the organization’s two ambulances that are based out of a building constructed in 2003 at the corner of Ohmer Road (M-24) and Lynch Drive in Mayville.
Bennett said it’s important to make sure each ambulance has plenty of gauze, bandages, blood pressure cuffs, and much more — whatever could be needed in case of emergency.
The ambulances need to be ready to go at all times because just about anything could happen at any moment.
It doesn’t take long for MAAS to mobilize, either.
The 13 EMTs and seven medical first responders (MFRs) must live within five minutes of the base. Those who don’t, stay in the base or nearby when they are on-call. Shifts of being on-call can be up to 24 hours long, Bennett said.
That means they are always at the ready, uniform prepped for action when the Tuscola County Central Dispatch sends out a call in MAAS’ coverage area.
Bennett keeps his pants at his feet sometimes, and sometimes he just sleeps in them. There’s more to it than being able to dress quickly, though.
Volunteers with MAAS must complete state-approved training courses, pass a licensing exam, obtain a CPR card, and pass an emergency driving test. Most take additional training, as well, in areas such as prehospital trauma life support, pediatric education for preshospital providers, National Incident Managements Systems, and more.
Welke said people volunteer with MAAS for various reasons, ranging from those who simply want to help their community to those who want to enter the medical field professionally (two doctors served as volunteers with MAAS). (Story continues below photo)
Whatever the reasons, Welke said, it’s definitely not pay (though volunteers do receive a small stipend for the work they perform).
So why do they do it?
“Number one, I think they want to volunteer and work in their community,” Welke said. “Then there are some where the training is good because they are going to go on in the medical field — I’ve had people go on to be nurses, I’ve had people go on to be doctors.”
Greg Peltonen has been with MAAS for about three years.
“It feels good to know that I drive these streets every day and know that I’m helping the community,” he said, adding that he became an EMT because he was looking for experience.
However, Welke says it can be challenging to recruit people for MAAS.
“When I first started, it was a lot easier to get volunteers,” Welke said, adding that it wasn’t uncommon for MAAS to have about 30 on the roster in the early days. “People don’t volunteer like they used to.”
Welke said it’s because more of the population is working.
“You have to really have time to give time to do this sort of thing,” he said.
Welke said for MAAS to survive another 40 years, volunteers with the organization will have to continue working hard.
“And you’ve got to have people who are willing to do what we’ve always been doing,” he said.
Welke encourages anyone interested in volunteering with MAAS to call 989-843-6136 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com