**Editor’s note: This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mount Pleasant candidate for trustee Ken Otwaska.

During the Mt. Pleasant Village Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, trustee David DeGroot used his time during “trustee reports” to speak to the issue of emergency response times in our village. It is an issue that has been raised repeatedly for the past few years and one I have focused on throughout my campaign for Mt. Pleasant Trustee in the spring election.

Mr. DeGroot’s comments (which can be heard here) focus mainly on what he describes as a “continued assault” on the board and fire chief. He describes this important discussion as one of personal character assassination rather than one of public safety and he asserted that emergency response times have gone down in Mt. Pleasant since the closing of Lake Park Fire Station in January of 2014.

This is a patently and demonstrably false statement which requires rebuttal.

Prior to the closing of Lake Park Fire Station, the Village of Mt. Pleasant found itself nearly $1.4 million over budget in Fire and Police costs under the leadership of my opponent, Rick McCluskey, who then served as Fire/EMS Oversight Board Chairman.

In order to evaluate the scope of this enormous deficit, the commission ordered a series of maps which calculated the calls for rescue and organized them according to 4 minute “American Heart Association” recommended rescue zones. The commission discovered thousands of Mt. Pleasant residents live outside the 4 to 6 minute life-saving area.

At the time my opponent, Rick McCluskey said:

“I am flabbergasted with these maps and what they represent,” said Fire/EMS chair Rick McCluskey.

As a charter member of Lake Park Fire Station, I could not have agreed more.

The village decided to handle this concerning discovery by bizarrely closing Lake Park Fire Station. When residents revolted, they said the closure was due to budget concerns and was part of a larger plan called the McGrath Study submitted in 2008.

What they did not tell residents was in addition to closing the admittedly small Lake Park Station, the McGrath Study called for building a new station near Spring and Newman Road to enhance future development and response times – which has never been built. Additionally, the newer Fire Station #8 on Old Green Bay Road, was built a mile and a half farther away than McGrath recommended.

In other words: my opponent, Rick McCluskey, and the village followed none of the recommended guidelines of a public safety study you and I paid for – except they closed a station that was supposed to be rebuilt elsewhere and never was built, and they built one where it wasn’t supposed to be built.

Yet, David DeGroot would appreciate it if we all would just keep quiet about it – lest we hurt someone’s feelings.

Most of this information circulated among a few residents, until a house burned down in the Lake Park area just a few months after the Lake Park closing. Neighbors claimed fire trucks did not arrive for close to 20 minutes.

Crews on the ground told reporters it took them around 10 minutes to arrive. A week later, Chief Stedman said it was 6 minutes 46 seconds. Even if Chief Stedman is correct – that’s still nearly 3 minutes past the optimal response time. As a retired firefighter, I would also like to point out a significant detail about how Fire/EMS determine response times.

It is calculated by something called “first on scene.” That could be a police car in the area that arrives before (sometimes well before) any rescue comes.

If you are having a heart attack or your house is one fire, you are only concerned with the person who begins life-saving measures, but the clock stops officially when the first person on scene arrives whether or not they administer any rescue efforts at all. As a resident this is an important detail in understanding emergency response and how statistics can be skewed to give a favorable impression. Another is that insurance rates for your home or business are directly affected by the distance from a fire station and how many staff members are on duty.

When Lake Park Fire Station was closed, Sturtevant Village President (also a member of the South Shore Fire Department), Steve Jansen told the media:

“The chief is trying to get costs under control, and the consolidation study called for Station 7 to close and to build a new one closer to Taylor and Meachem,” he said. “Station 8 is a little further west, and response times might be higher. There will probably be a little longer response time, and that’s unfortunate,” Jansen added.

Former Fire Chief Bill Bouma was quoted saying:

“The decision about Lake Park is “not good news at all,” Bouma said Friday” and “Fire Station No. 8, was placed farther away than recommended and was not built to house the recommended personnel. Relying on Station No. 8 will make response times too long for east side residents, himself included,” Bouma worried.

Even current Fire Chief Robert Stedman conceded longer emergency response waiting time, saying:

“Station No. 8, at 3900 Old Green Bay Road, is approximately 1.5 miles farther away than recommended, Stedman said. This means “a little bit” of a delay, likely a matter of minutes, he said” and “The fire chief also noted other parts of the village with much higher calls for service are located outside the ideal range as well.”

Perhaps the best evidence for disbelieving Mr. DeGroot’s assertion that response times have been reduced is their own map from 2012 which shows the area that is and is not within the 4 minute emergency response zone. Nothing – except one less Fire Station – has changed since the Fire/EMS Commission first discovered these disparities that so “flabbergasted” my opponent.

It defies logic and common sense to argue otherwise. The very best Fire/EMS department in the world simply cannot arrive faster if they have farther to travel. Period.

It is not my goal to impugn the reputation of our dedicated Fire/EMS first responders, I was one!

It is a challenge and a disservice to all residents when this important discussion only happens during meetings where there can be no interaction or questions. Public safety is no place for grandstanding or chastising concerned citizens.

I have received messages from residents reporting response times that are very alarming. If you or anyone you know has placed a rescue/emergency call to Mt. Pleasant – I am interested in knowing the response time. Please contact me or comment below.

As a Mt. Pleasant Village Trustee, your safety will always be my main concern.

Thank you,
Ken Otwaska

Primary Election Day – February 16th
Email Ken at: kenandcarol1628@att.net
Call: 262/664-3680

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