Ill. fire department wants to add ALS unit

The fire chief said it would not tread on agreement with ambulance company, AMT


By Andy Kravetz
The Journal Star

PEORIA, Ill. — The turf war between Advanced Medical Transport Inc. of Central Illinois and the Peoria Fire Department, dormant for many years, could be heating up again.

Nearly a decade ago, the two sparred over which entity would provide paramedic service and patient transport within the city limits. AMT reached an agreement with the city in which it was to pay $85,000, adjusted annually for inflation, for exclusive patient transport in Peoria. The agreement was modified in 2009 to allow the Fire Department to have three advanced life support engines — fire trucks with at least one paramedic and medical equipment.

Now the department wants a fourth ALS engine for House 19 on the city’s northwestern edge, which is near the new Louisville Slugger complex and The Shoppes at Grand Prairie.

The cost is about $5,000; which a city councilman says is a “no brainer” to spend. But others say not so fast: Peoria is fine with the services it has now.

Both Peoria Fire Chief Charles Lauss and Rick Waldron, president of Peoria Firefighters Union Local 50, said this is not an attempt to replace AMT.

“We have an agreement in place. … We cannot get into transport. There is a five-year notice that the Peoria Fire Department has to give to AMT to say we are getting into transport. We want to enhance our services and enhance what we are giving our community,” Lauss said.

Peoria firefighters can provide basic life support, which includes doing CPR and using automatic defibrillators. Advanced life support involves more advanced drugs, intubation tubes and IVs. At present, only the three paramedics on the ALS engines and AMT are at the ALS level.

The union and the chief think adding a fourth ALS engine is a benefit for everyone and actually strengthens the relationship with AMT.

“We believe it is the best service possible for our citizens. It comes down to whether we get there first or AMT. As long as we get a medic there, that’s what counts,” said Waldron, who is a firefighter-paramedic.

But officials from AMT, a not-for-profit company that has provided ambulance service to the Peoria area for years, disagree. They say having too many paramedics can actually degrade services as there simply isn’t enough work to keep everyone proficient.

“Doing the best for the community isn’t doing everything, it’s doing the right things,” said Andrew Rand, AMT’s executive director.

He and others at AMT point to two letters written by the head of the Peoria Area Emergency Medical Services system last year addressing the so-called saturation of paramedics.

“Peoria currently has a paramedic saturation level of around 6.4 paramedics per 10,000 population, which is much higher than many other cities in the United States,” wrote Dr. Matthew Jackson last July in a letter to former Fire Chief Kent Tomblin. “It has been well studied and documented that increased paramedic saturation can actually lead to overall worse patient outcomes in key clinical situations such as cardiac arrest. The reasons for this primarily revolve around skills and knowledge degradation due to dilution of experience.”

Lauss disagrees and said the department’s 40-odd paramedics are well-trained.

“Our paramedics are getting all the training hours and the exposure that is required, for one thing. And even beyond that, a lot of these guys work for other agencies on their off days so they can practice some of those skills,” he said.

Councilman Jim Montelongo, who represents the area would be served by the new ALS engine, is “absolutely” behind the idea.

“I think for us to provide, in this location, where we are going to have hundreds more people visiting, out at the ball park and at the new dome, there is going to be a need for more services,” he said. “For someone who is in need of these services, $5,000 in the big picture isn’t a lot of money.”

The request is pending before the PAEMS director and, after that, the City Council will likely take the idea up at a future meeting.

Copyright 2016 the Journal Star

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