First responder recognized in state, nation

Published 9:34 am Monday, June 24, 2019

NILES TOWNSHIP – Frank DeLaTorre regularly gives reports during Berrien County Fire Chiefs Association meetings as a representative for his employer, Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service.

June’s meeting was no different, but before the paramedic shift captain could step away from the podium, the association announced to the audience he had been recognized at the state and national level for his work as a paramedic.

“To be recognized is quite an honor, but I got into this because it was something that looked interesting that I thought I would enjoy,” he said. “It turned out that I did like doing it. I liked helping people.”

DeLaTorre is one of a handful of recipients receiving two Stars of Life awards. One of the two awards was from the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services. The other was from the American Ambulance

On June 5, DeLaTorre went to Lansing to be officially recognized by the state Senate and House of Representatives. There, he met with Rep. Brad Paquette and Sen. Kim LaSata. On June 23, he will head to Washington, D.C. to be recognized for his national Stars of Life award in a multi-day event.

The awards are designated to EMS workers by their peers for going above the call of duty in providing service to both community residents and EMS staff.

DeLaTorre has worked in the ambulance field for more than 30 years, all in southwest Michigan. While the Coloma resident works full-time for SMCAS, he is also a part-time worker, a volunteer and an official for numerous organizations across the area. In each role, he either serves the community as a paramedic or he trains others in the first responder field.

“I have my fingers in a lot of stuff,” he said. “Besides the work I’m doing here, I’m involved in all the communities I’m in.”

In addition to his paramedic certifications, DeLaTorre holds three fire officer and two firefighter certifications. His knowledge of fire departments has led him to become employed at North Berrien Fire Rescue and the Niles City Fire Department. He is also a member of the Berrien County Firefighters Association and secretary for the North Berrien Firefighters Association.

DeLatorre is also qualified to program radio channels for public safety scanners. He is a state trainer for the Michigan Public Safety Communications System and is one of 18 communication technicians in the state.

“I’ve done a lot of programming of radios for many different people and departments within Berrien, Van Buren and Cass counties,” he said.

He and others are working on a grant to move Berrien County’s fire and EMS departments onto a collective radio system. This, he said, would allow for better communication between first responder

To top off his list of roles, DeLaTorre is employed by the Van Buren County Emergency Medical Service, and he has helped initiate a fire cadet program at North Berrien Fire Rescue.

One reason why he is so involved in the community is because of the importance of the job, he said. Any 911 call could be dire.

“Everybody’s emergency is an emergency to them, no matter how small it is to anybody else,” DeLaTorre said. “To them, it’s the biggest thing going on or maybe the worst day in their life.”

Despite the numerous roles DeLaTorre plays in the southwest Michigan’s first responder field, becoming a paramedic was not initially a career goal.

“It started off as a class to fill in some credits,” he said. “It turned out that I ended up really liking it.”

DeLaTorre enrolled in Southwestern Michigan College’s athletic training program. He finished his core classes first, then moved onto electives. He ended up choosing an emergency medical technician class, not realizing that “EMT” was associated with ambulances.

The class ended up being a joy, and DeLaTorre went to his hometown’s volunteer ambulance service to see if the job was the right fit.

It was.

“I like what I do. I like being able to help people,” he said.

A passion for helping others may run in the family. DeLaTorre’s son enrolled in his new cadet program earlier this year.