June 12, 2020

SONCO needs you!


(Submitted by Christine Raisanen, Secretary, SONCO Board of Directors)


On August 4, 2020, citizens of Ontonagon County will have the opportunity to support vital emergency medical services by voting for SONCO Ambulance’s millage proposal. This millage is the primary funding source for the volunteer ambulance service.

Did you know that the seven northern Ontonagon County townships were literally days away from being without an ambulance service?  This occurred in 2009 when the private ambulance service covering these townships removed their two ambulances and closed the substation.

This disastrous situation was averted when the original SONCO (South Ontonagon County) Ambulance, which began service in 1995, extended their license, allowing a temporary service to operate in the townships which were suddenly left without any ambulance service. 

As with the establishment of the initial (South County) service, many dedicated people and organizations pulled together to obtain this temporary license and provided personnel and equipment for it. THERE WAS NO BREAK IN SERVICE TO ANYONE IN THE TOWNSHIPS.

A special election was held in 2010 for the first county-wide millage to support the ambulance service which now served all of Ontonagon County.

This, and subsequent millage requests, were overwhelmingly approved by every township in the county.

SONCO is now the acronym for Serving Ontonagon County.


SONCO Ambulance is a volunteer-staffed ambulance service.  The vast majority of the EMS personnel has other (usually full-time) jobs.

Becoming an EMS provider, whether a MFR (Medical First Responder), an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), an A-EMT (Advanced Emergency Medical Technician) or a paramedic is a rigorous process which involves both coursework and hands-on clinical education. As well, the EMT students ride along on actual ambulance runs for experience.

Before becoming licensed by the state, the student must pass both practical testing and a national registry examination.  (These licensure requirements are identical for all EMS providers, whether they practice in the Upper Peninsula or in Metro Detroit.) 

The new EMS providers also go through a probationary process.

In order to maintain their licenses, EMS personnel must obtain a specified number of continuing education hours which include both didactic and practical credits as mandated by the state.

SONCO Ambulance purchased a special computer program a couple years ago (CareerCert) which enables the staff to complete a portion of the necessary continuing continuing education credits online. The practical continuing education hours must be completed as well.

The SONCO Ambulance crew members also receive education and training on new equipment and procedures at their regular staff meetings.

During this time of COVID-19, online education is being utilized even more for training on new equipment as well as refreshers on same.

If and when you are faced with a medical emergency, the professional, capable, and compassionate emergency service providers may well be your friends, neighbors, or co-workers.  


Throughout the history of SONCO Ambulance, several unsuccessful efforts were made to upgrade the service to an advanced life support level. This increased level of service would have helped with transfers of patients to other facilities for specialized care as well as advanced life support for transports to local hospitals.

The population of Ontonagon County decreased by 13% between 2000 and 2010 and opportunities for local employment also declined.  These demographic factors as well as the financial cost of maintaining a full-time advanced life support service made this option unfeasible.

SONCO Ambulance board members and personnel (past and present) worked tirelessly to create alternative ways to provide advanced emergency services for its service area.

Many meetings were held with legislators, representatives from the Michigan ambulance association, and local governmental units.  Endorsements were obtained from these governmental units, hospitals, and physicians.

In December of 2014, Michigan House Bill 5065 was passed which granted part-time limited advanced life support status to SONCO Ambulance.

Much preparation was instituted, including a number of the EMTs furthering their education to become A-EMT’s. (Advanced EMTs) Additional equipment, protocols, and drug boxes were also readied.

Unfortunately, HB 5065 had a sunset clause added at the last minute. The beginning of 2018 marked the end of this upgraded status designation.

The SONCO board members and personnel began their legislative lobbying efforts once again.

After months of work, and much assistance from Marty Fittante, Senator Tom Casperson’s aide,

Senate Bill 929 was passed in 2018. (This bill has no sunset clause.)

The next installment will spotlight how this part-time limited advanced life support status benefits the citizens served by SONCO Ambulance.


In the last segment of the SONCO SPOTLIGHT, the long history of the mission to advance emergency services was detailed.  This quest included the work for the passage of two pieces of legislation:  House BIll 5842 in 2014 and Senate Bill 929 in 2018.

What are the benefits of obtaining this part-time limited advanced life support status?

It can literally be a matter of life and death!

A Part-Time Limited Advanced Life Support service can operate under this licensure level when the appropriate staff (A-EMTs or paramedics) are on board.  If the ambulance is staffed with EMTs only, then it functions under the Basic Life Support Level.

Both levels operate under a regional medical control authority (for Gogebic, Iron, and Ontonagon counties) and its protocols.

EMTs, A-EMTs, (Advanced EMTs) and paramedics can all administer epinephrine via EpiPens, oral glucose, albuterol nebulizers, and Narcan.

In addition, medications specific to the Limited Advanced Life Support status are intra-muscular (IM) injections of glucagon and intravenous (IV) dextrose for diabetic emergencies, several types of IV fluids, and nitroglycerine.

The county has a population density of fewer than seven people per square mile, and has been classified by the federal government as a “frontier area”.

Distances to transport patients to the local hospitals can be long, and complicated by adverse weather conditions in winter.

Having the ability to begin lifesaving interventions in the field has been a huge step forward in emergency service in our area.

As well, if staff is available, inter-facility transfers can be done.

SONCO Ambulance completed its first limited advanced support run on June 22, 2019.


Since December of 2014, Aspirus Medevac Ambulance has worked alongside SONCO Ambulance, although both are independent services.

SONCO Ambulance is Ontonagon County’s 911 provider; this foundational emergency medical service response has continued to be the purview of SONCO, even with the advent of the Medevac Ambulance Service in Ontonagon.

On August 4, 2020, the citizens of Ontonagon County will have the opportunity to cast a ballot in support of this vital service.

Aspirus Medevac began a substation in Ontonagon to help address the problem of prolonged lengths of stay at Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital before transfers to an advanced level of service could be accomplished.

Other small area hospitals (in Baraga, Ironwood, Houghton, and Calumet) all had advanced life support ground ambulances based in their counties. Ontonagon did not

Aspirus Medevac handles transfers from Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital. They also do transfers from Aspirus Keweenaw and Aspirus Iron River hospitals to name some of their responsibilities.

When Aspirus Medevac is not out on a transfer, they are available to intercept and help manage emergency care on critical ambulance calls.

SONCO Ambulance continues to enjoy a close, mutually beneficial working relationship with Aspirus Medevac Ambulance.


The overwhelming support of over 90% of the voters in all townships made it possible for SONCO Ambulance to improve emergency care for its citizens.  They will have the opportunity to do so again on August 4.

In the summer of 2019, a brand new ambulance, purchased by SONCO, arrived for service in the county.  The other two ambulances in the “fleet” are 1999 and 2005 models. Money is already being budgeted for a second brand new rig in the future.

Examples of other needed equipment purchased over the past few years are:  two new ambulance cots, the CareerCert computer program to assist staff in completing continuing education needed for re-licensure, two Lucas Devices (for performing chest compressions in CPR), and new cardiac monitors. In addition, body armor for the staff has been included in the budget and is being researched.

For annual staff appreciation and recognition, needed items are purchased. Past gifts have included stethoscopes and high-visibility jackets.

The SONCO Ambulance Board of Directors strives to be fiscally responsible, good stewards of its resources as well as to provide the necessary equipment and support for its mission:  Serving Ontonagon County.

Top Piece Video:  Okay, they wouldn’t play DOA by Blood Rock on the radio due to the sirens – that is okay – we are using it to spread the word about the upcoming mileage election for our very necessary SONCO ambulance service – please vote in August!