2016-10-13 / Life in Leelanau

More paramedics coming to northernmost fire department

Dept. will grow to 9 employees
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


BEN BAKKER, a firefighter EMT, and Tyler Vandemark, a firefighter paramedic, were manning the Leelanau Township fire station last week, where full-timers work two days — a 48-hour shift — and have four off. BEN BAKKER, a firefighter EMT, and Tyler Vandemark, a firefighter paramedic, were manning the Leelanau Township fire station last week, where full-timers work two days — a 48-hour shift — and have four off. The newest member of the Leelanau Township Emergency Services (LTES) department is also the only staff member who is a paramedic.

But that will soon change as the department upgrades to offering Advanced Life Support services, which could be as soon as April.

In the meantime, Tyler Vandemark, 32, isn’t allowed to use the skills he’s honed over the last several years as a full-time firefighter paramedic in Owosso.

The upgrade to ALS will likely take place in April — if the department can find three more full-time firefighter paramedics to provide coverage around the clock. The LTES is looking to fill those positions in January.

Jeff Hester, a full-time firefighter emergency medical technician (EMT) with LTES, will also step into a paramedic role, as he recently completed his paramedic training and is preparing to take his licensure exams. He would become one of five paramedics on a staff that includes Vandemark and the three new hires.

In all, the department will have nine full-time employees.

The upgrade is being funded by a 0.5-mill property tax increase approved in August by Leelanau Township registered voters. The tax will be collected in December.

The department already has the equipment it needs, though ALS functions are “locked out,” Vandemark said. It also does not have some of the drugs needed to deliver the advanced services.

The Leelanau department now contracts with the Suttons Bay-Bingham Department for ALS. Upgrading will shave several minutes off the time between when a call is received at the Leelanau Township fire station and when a patient receives treatment.

“That time is crucial,” Vandemark said. “I’m glad the community was behind us and backed the millage. If I lived in Northport I would absolutely want that for my family.”

The department is currently staffed 24/7, with all full-timers certified EMTs or EMT specialists. They generally work 48 hours followed by 96 hours off.

The schedule works well for families. Vandemark lives in Traverse City with his wife, Aubrey, and his 3-yearold daughter Madelynn.

“She hangs out with me on my days off,” Vandemark said of his daughter. “Which is nice, it’s a nice part of the job.”

Vandemark grew up in Caro, but said Aubrey has family in Northport — her sister Kathryn Murphy is an art teacher in Leland they have been visiting the area for years.

He said he’s been trying to get Aubrey to move up to the area and finally convinced her. They’ve lived here since May, he started his new job in June and they bought a house in Traverse City in August.

Vandemark got his firefighter and EMT training at Lansing Community College, and took paramedic training through the Lansing Mason program.

In addition to his job in Owosso, Vandemark has worked for the St. John’s Fire Department and the Clinton Area Fire Department. He also spent five years as a paramedic technician at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

All of his jobs overlapped, he said. Like many who work in the emergency services field, he’s held several jobs at once to make ends meet.

“It’s a little different up here, a little slower pace,” he said. “It’s a great little community. Everyone I meet is very, very friendly.”

Leelanau Township is the only department Vandemark has ever worked for that’s not ALS certified, he said. He looks forward to helping the Leelanau Township department through its upgrade.

“I want to be involved in that process,” he said. “It will be good for the community.”

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