The dispute over which fire department responds first to Potterville Public Schools continues after the outgoing Potterville City Council approved a decision to make an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. This move from the City of Potterville comes after the State Court of Appeals stood mute on a first appeal, essentially siding with the county’s decision to allow Benton Township Fire Department to respond first.
Potterville City Manager, Wanda Darrow said she believes appealing the case to the Michigan Supreme Court is a necessary and justified move based on information from the city’s legal counsel.
“It was a decision made amongst the council members based on information from our legal counsel,” said Darrow.
The council decision was made in closed session in one of the last council meetings of the year, and the last of the outgoing council.
“This is to allow us to be able to serve our community,” said Darrow.
Darrow comes down on one simple side of the issue, that it doesn’t seem reasonable to allow another department to “enter into our jurisdiction and take over calls.”
“I was disappointed to say the least,” said Roger Wickerham, Benton Township supervisor. “We’re hoping the new council will bring it up and dismiss it. We’re trying to get along and be good neighbors.”
City officials reportedly sat down with the fire chiefs of Benton Township Fire Department at the end of 2017 to begin a process of writing up a contracted mutual aid agreement. According to Wickerham the process has been at a standstill since the initial meeting.
Wickerham indicated that he understands the city’s point of view, but he’s not convinced it’s ultimately best for Potterville Schools to have the city fire department as first call and responders.
“They have to be prepared to have the necessary equipment and trained firefighters, and I’m not sure that they are,” said Wickerham.
Wickerham was also concerned about the costs with a continued legal battle. The township already spent about $12,000 on the last appeal, and simply filing in the recent appeal will easily cost another $2,000, according to Wickerham.
“We knew it was an option, asking the Supreme Court to look at it,” said Eaton County Central Dispatch Director Michael Armitage. “They choose their cases, but it doesn’t mean the court will do so.”
Armitage maintains that it was within the bounds of the county to approve the schools’ request to have Benton Township Fire Department as first responders in the case of an accident.
“…911 Enabling Act does address dispatch centers as dispatching closest, most appropriate units. That’s why the county chose the position it did, as far as court proceedings go,” said Armitage. “It comes down to we have to dispatch somebody based on the closest unit. It puts this in a unique situation that the township fire department is located within the city. We’re trying to balance local jurisdiction and authority with the interest of getting EMS on scene as quick as possible.”
According to Wickerham it could be as many seven months before the state Supreme Court announces whether or not it will hear the case.