Michigan City Sues Township Over Fire EMS Response Across The Street

Today’s burning question: There is a township fire station directly across the street from my property, but because the property is physically in the city, the township says they cannot respond. Shouldn’t the closest fire department to an emergency respond? By the way, the property is a school, I am the principal, and I am gravely concerned about the safety of my students. I have the school district’s support. Can the school district enter into an agreement with the township to have them respond?

Answer: Your question – essentially: shouldn’t the closest apparatus to an emergency be dispatched – is one that I have been asked in a number of different ways over the years, but this is the first time it has been raised in this context.

It is also at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the City of Potterville against the Potterville School District, Benton Township, and Eaton County claiming that an agreement between the township and the school district for township apparatus to respond to a school campus across the street from a township fire station is illegal.

The lawsuit alleges that the city has the exclusive authority to respond to emergencies at the school because it is located within the city. The Lansing State Journal quoted school superintendent Tim Donahue as saying “We thought it would be better to have an agreement with Benton Township for our students safety.”

Benton Township provides fire-based EMS while the city contracts with a third party, Eaton Area EMS.

The suit names Eaton County because it operates the county dispatch center that ultimately dispatches either the city or the township to the emergency scene. Potterville claims the county lacks the authority to dispatch township units into the city. In response to the suit, Eaton County countered with the following:

  • “Eaton County admits that the city has advised that it has a ‘deal’ with a third party ambulance company and that it wants its deal honored even if public safety is threatened”
  • “Eaton County admits that it has refused to honor such deal and compromise public safety. Eaton County admits that the city has demanded similar commitments of Eaton County with respect to its fire department at the possible risk of public safety at the school district and with respect to its students and that Eaton County has refused to put public safety of the school district’s property or children at risk.”

Here is more on the story.

BTW… isn’t Potterville the name for Bedford Falls in George Bailey’s dream in “It’s A Wonderful Life”… if the evil Mr. Potter ended up owning the town???? Just sayin…

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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