Winter Storm Watch issued for West Michigan for Sunday

Emergency responders prepare for heightened risks during winter months

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- With the winter weather almost always comes dangerous driving conditions, but the threat on those in emergency vehicles is even higher.

The most treacherous roads and bad accidents are usually where you can find the first responders. Paramedics and EMTs from Life EMS in Grand Rapids say the cold weather complicates things and when it comes to the snow, you have to be on your 'A game'.

Robert Vanderhoff, a paramedic, and Jake Ziomkowski, an EMT, have seen it all. When you're work partners for 12 hours per day, you need to work as a team.

"Based on how bad the weather is you just have to proceed with caution," said Vanderhoff.

"We just take it really slow," said Jake Ziomkowski.

With a combined eight years of experience, they have worked through plenty of Michigan winters.

"We do have a lot of runoffs on I-96 into ditches," said Vanderhoff. "We have a lot of those where we get calls for unknown accidents. A majority of the time, luckily, it's someone who veered off the road and is waiting for a tow truck."

Paramedics and EMTs are responding to accidents on dangerous roads, but are driving down the exact same roads to get there.

"I think the scariest thing for us as providers is being on a road while the road conditions are bad and we are inherently putting ourselves in kind of an unsafe situation where we're on a street that may be icy," said Tedd Vansolkema, field supervisor.

A lot of the time, they will drive with the lights and sirens off because one of the biggest threats is other drivers.

"I feel like we get cut off a lot when we're running emergency lights and sirens," said Ziomkowski. "I think a lot of people don't know what to do. People will pull to the left or just stop dead center in the road. Really what you need to do is pull over to the right for any kind of emergency vehicle."

Both Vanderhoff and Ziomkowski say they're stationed at different post points throughout the area where the most calls have been received in the past six months in order to cut down on response times.

They also want to remind drivers if you see an emergency vehicle to slowly pull off to the right side of the road so they can pass you on the left.

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