Ill. city council: Fire dept. takes too much equipment on medical calls

City consultants recommend reducing the number of "low-priority calls" by the fire department and overhauling the city's dispatch center


Steve Tarter
Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

PEORIA, Ill. — Consultants told the Peoria City Council on Tuesday that the city is sending too much equipment to medical calls.

Instead, they recommended reducing the number of "low-priority calls" by the fire department and overhauling the city's dispatch center.

(Photo/Peoria Fire Department Facebook)
(Photo/Peoria Fire Department Facebook)

"The Peoria Fire Department went to an awful lot of medical calls," said Bruce Mueller of Fitch & Associates, citing 2017 data that showed of 27,000 emergency calls that year, 22,700 were medical emergencies.

Mueller said the consultant's full report would be available in two weeks with the exception of an ongoing analysis of the city's dispatch procedures that would be available in three months.

At Large Councilman Zach Oyler called for recommendations that would detail if the city was "too heavy or too light" in its response to emergencies, questioning if the final report would review the number of units that arrive at a medical call.

At Large Councilwoman Beth Akeson called for the city to post information that Fitch provided regarding modern-day fire statistics on the city's website. People need to know that the critical time to get to the scene of a fire has gone from 20 minutes to under four minutes, she said.

That's due to factors such as more combustible building materials and the size of newer homes. Peoria Fire Chief Ed Olehy said "flashovers," when the contents of the room suddenly ignite, does tend to occur more quickly than before but also stated that newer houses were much tighter than older homes, allowing for possible containment.

Olehy said Peoria firefighters keep the fire in the room of origin 78 percent of the time.

The Fitch report noted nationally, while the number of structure fires has dropped in half in recent years, the number of medical calls has grown exponentially. In 2017, Peoria's firefighters handled 252 fires while responding to 16,200 emergency calls.

Another of the Fitch recommendations was to allow Advanced Medical Transport, the private ambulance service that handles emergency medical calls along with the city's fire department, an extra minute to get to the scene of a call while shaving time of the average dispatch call.

Mueller said the 911 dispatcher was critical "in sending the right resources to the scene of an emergency." The consultant's recommendation was to allow six months to a year after revamping the city's dispatch office before making any decisions about the deployment of fire resources.

Earlier this week, Ryan Brady, president of Peoria Firefighters Local 50, downplayed the significance of the Fitch study. "While I have yet to see the final report, I seriously doubt it will be truly beneficial to the fire department," he said.

Brady said Fitch representatives sat with council members in advance and openly discussed how fire department services could be reduced using six fire stations in the city.

In other business, the council voted 6-5 to table the matter of the fire department charging fees on out-of-towners for emergency services performed during traffic accidents.

At Large Councilman Sid Ruckriegel was among those opposing the measure. "We tasked the fire department to find some new revenue sources and I commend them for that but this sends the wrong message to those who want to come into this community. This says we're not open for business," he said.

Council members voted unanimously to amend an ordinance affecting billboards in the city. "The number of billboards won't change in the city but this will give more flexibility to billboard companies to move their signs around," said Community Development Director Ross Black.

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©2019 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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