MARQUETTE — First responders and EMS workers from across the U.P. and beyond gathered in Marquette for the second day of the UP-EMS Conference. The conference — which provides training for EMS personnel — began its second day with some worrisome news.

“We got a phone call and an e-mail ten minutes later merely saying that the department is not going to renew the contract,” said UP-EMS Executive Director Bob Struck.

The 35-year-old contract between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ EMS office and the Upper Peninsula Emergency Medical Services Corporation (UP-EMS) comes to an end on the first of the month. News of the cancellation was confirmed by UP-EMS Executive Director Bob Struck at the beginning of the second day of the annual UP-EMS Conference. One of the reasons given was the department’s desire to move to a unified way of doing things across the state — a plan that some say would be detrimental to rural EMS service.

“People in the urban areas spend maybe ten minutes in an ambulance ride,” said Representative John Kivela (D-Marquette). “Our folks spend forty minutes to two and a half hours, and so we have unique challenges, and it takes a unique system.”

“Bob Struck has been pretty vocal in the EMS world as far as rural Michigan. He’s been a champion for them and stood up for them, and where he’s disagreed with the department, he’s let it be known, and the fear there is that because of speaking up, that might have caused some heartburn,” said Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba).

While officials say the loss of the contract doesn’t spell the end for UP-EMS, there are concerns that the small local departments the group works with — many of which are volunteer — will lose important resources.

“Well the concern is clearly that the U.P. or Northern Michigan — rural Michigan — will lose a voice that they’ve had,” said Casperson.

“If the UP-EMS organization goes away, those smaller services are going to have to struggle to find their own way to get support or be promoted or get things done,” Struck added.

“My suggestion is: go back to your departments, start writing letters, bombard their offices with letters, let them take them down to Lansing, and yes, if we have to take buses and go to Lansing and protest it, then let’s do it,” said Lt. Leonard Zierler of the Frederic Township Fire Department.