December 18, 2013 - Oxford Township believes Oxford Village breached the dispatch services contract between the two municipalities by taking on Lake Orion as a customer and by not complying with all applicable medical control standards.
Township officials voted 7-0 last week to make public an attorney opinion letter regarding the issue and notify the village that they want it "to comply with the dispatch contract."
"I just feel for the health, safety and welfare of the community that I want them to comply with our contract," said township Supervisor Bill Dunn, who fears that the village's having one dispatcher on duty per shift is not enough to adequately handle emergency calls from three communities.
The village has seven days to "cure the breach," and if it cannot do so within that time frame, it must "proceed with due diligence to complete the cure," according to a Dec. 5 legal opinion issued by township attorney Gary Rentrop.
He noted Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz has "sole discretion" to resolve the dispute.
Dunn indicated the township is willing to be somewhat flexible about the time frame.
"They can have some extra time to expedite the cure," he said.
On Friday, village Manager Joe Young said the municipality had no official response yet to the township's request. "Our attorney's reviewing it and we'll know more after that's accomplished and we investigate the issues they're raising further," he said.
Village attorney Bob Davis issued a confidential opinion letter on the matter. The village council was expected to discuss it in a special closed session meeting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
Township officials also voted 5-2 to request that two "qualified" dispatchers be on duty in the village center "at all times, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
That motion was made by Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who believes the township has a right as a paying customer to make such a request "if we feel that's what's needed."
"I think (in) this whole thing we're losing sight (of the fact) that we're the person that's buying (this service)," he said. "If you go to the store and you don't like what they have, you go to a different store . . . I want two dispatchers."
Currently, the village has one dispatcher on duty at any given time except in cases where a second one is brought on to help deal with severe weather situations or special community events.
Since 2000, the township has contracted with the village to handle all of the fire and emergency medical calls in Oxford. For this service, the township is paying the village $36,071 this year. That fee will increase to $37,153 next year and $38,268 in 2015. The contract is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2015.
All 9-1-1 calls in Oxford go to the village dispatch center, which in turn handles all fire/emergency medical calls, plus all the village police department's calls.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the village dispatch center will also receive all of the Village of Lake Orion's 9-1-1 calls and provide dispatch services for its police department. Oxford will charge Lake Orion $20,000 next year with 2 percent increases in 2015 and 2016.
According to Rentrop's opinion, this constitutes a breach of the dispatch services contract Oxford Village has with the township.
"'Dispatch Services' is a defined term," he wrote. "Part of its definition is dispatch services 'within the unincorporated portion of the township and the village.'
"Once the village contracted with (Lake) Orion for dispatch service, it, as a matter of contract law, is not longer providing 'Dispatch Services' to the township. The township has contracted for Dispatch Services, which is an arrangement involving only the township and village territories. Adding a third party violates that arrangement."
"The main thing is the agreement said that we were going to be part of this dispatch (service) when it was limited to the Township of Oxford and the Village of Oxford, not bring other communities in here and then not take that into consideration how many dispatchers we have," Dunn said.
Rentrop noted the township has an argument that "its expected level of Dispatch Services has been reduced in that no equipment or personnel has been added for service now to three communities instead of two."
Trustee Jack Curtis noted that taking on Lake Orion as a customer means the village dispatch will be handling an additional 4,500 calls annually.
Ferrari said the addition of Lake Orion means Oxford Village is no longer going to offer the township "specialized service," which had been a selling point in the past.
"What makes the village any different than Oakland County that (handles calls from) multiple units (of government)?" he said. "They're just like Oakland County (dispatch), servicing multiple entities."
The difference is the county's center employs a total of 54 dispatchers. Depending on the time of day, there are 11 to 13 county dispatchers on duty per shift.
The township believes the village should have two dispatchers on duty in order to conform to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 2013 standards, which state, "Communication centers that provide pre-arrival instructions to callers shall have two telecommunicators (i.e. dispatchers) on duty and present in the operations room at all times."
The village dispatch center currently provides pre-arrival instructions by offering Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) services to callers that need them.
EMD involves dispatchers asking callers a standardized set of questions about their emergency situation and staying on the line with them in order to provide instructions prior to the arrival of public safety personnel. For example, EMD dispatchers give callers instructions related to CPR, choking and child birth.
The Pontiac-based Star EMS, a private ambulance company, provides backup EMD services to the village by giving callers pre-arrival instructions whenever necessary. The village dispatcher has the option of transferring an EMD call to Star, so he or she can handle other calls.
Scholz noted the downside to using Star EMS is once the village turns a call over to it, there's no communication whatsoever between the company's dispatchers and Oxford fire personnel.
Scholz explained a "key component" of EMD is screening calls to determine the "severity" of the situation. In other words, is it a true, life-threatening emergency or a routine service call?
"Right now, (the village dispatch center is) not providing that part of the service to us," he told the township board.
The Oakland County Medical Control Authority requires fire departments to have policies and protocols in place regarding how it responds to emergency calls.
"I have a policy written for us (outlining) how we would do that, but (the village is) not providing any of that information (regarding the severity of calls)," Scholz said.
For example, under the policy, the most severe emergencies require "full lights and sirens for everybody that's responding to that call," Scholz explained.
Because the village is not screening calls, whenever Oxford firefighters are dispatched, they respond as if it's a severe case.
"We're going lights and sirens (for) everything we go to," Scholz said. "There is no component (available) to us to prioritize that call . . . So, my personnel are going down the road (with) lights and sirens to some calls (where it's) completely unnecessary."
Scholz said the department could be sending one vehicle with no lights, no sirens and traveling within the speed limit to these non-emergency calls.
By running full lights and sirens on every call, the chief said, "Not only are we jeopardizing my personnel's lives, we're also causing (a) ruckus as we're going through traffic – people trying to pull over for us and get out of the way.
"Going down M-24 here through town, traffic is always heavy and then add us going through there with lights and sirens, it's extremely dangerous."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.