Taste The Coffee

Volunteers offers relief, nourishment to first responders on the job


ANN ARBOR, MI – A semitrailer rolls over on the entrance ramp to I-94 from State Street. The truck’s contents spill onto the ramp, and first responders from various Washtenaw County emergency services are dispatched.

It’s hot, humid, and they’ll be working the June 3 scene for five hours.

Four volunteers roll up to the scene in a bright green truck, a former HVA ambulance that has since been retrofitted with a coffee maker, microwave and other equipment to provide a refuge for first responders.

The four volunteers are Emily East, Brent Courson, Jim Grissom, and Bonnie Engstrom.

They are HART.

Helping Area Response Teams is a volunteer nonprofit with one goal: To provide on-scene resources and assistance to public servants in emergency situations.

The organization’s board of directors is comprised mostly of individuals working in public safety, with the exception of the Larry and Brent Courson, a father-son duo of pastor and full-time volunteer.

“It is humbling being on the HART side of the table, because the guys are very appreciative,” said Lt. Michael Grissom of the Dexter Area Fire Department, and son to HART volunteer Jim Grissom.

HART volunteers have been assisting first responders at scenes throughout the Washtenaw County area for more than four years.

The organization was formed in 2014 with the help of Washtenaw County Mutual Aid Association, Peace Lutheran Church, and Huron Valley Ambulance.

At HART’s inception, HVA donated one of their retired ambulances to the organization and has since donated a second.

HART relies on donations from the community, both in the form of money and in food. As first responders work a scene, volunteers assemble tables and benches, then fill them with food, water, and hand wipes.

Various local businesses such as Zingerman’s, Karl’s Cabin, and Mancino’s shell out food in support the mission.

Paul Davis Restorations, a nationwide chain of disaster cleanup providers, pledged a $30,000 donation to support to the nonprofit last month.

“It’s kind of the forgotten aspect of what’s needed when a fire happens, and that’s taking care of the first responders,” said Michelle Milliken, a Paul Davis Restoration spokesperson.

Their dispatches are “feast or famine,” according to HART volunteer Bonnie Engstrom.

Weeks will go by without a single call, and then the barrage ensues.

Engstrom last week responded to two calls. The first a rollover crash, June 3, and the second a residential structure fire in Superior Township, June 4.

Typically, they expect two dispatches a month.

HART is looking for help in the eastern part of Washtenaw County.

As it stands, the organization is based primarily on the west side, and would like to find support from volunteers, countywide.

More information on HART is available here.



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Taste The Coffee 2019