A fire station on the north side of Peoria is now able to provide improved emergency medical services, leaving the city with a single station still lacking capacity.
Starting at 7 a.m. Monday, the Detweiller Drive-based Engine 15 has moved from Basic to Advanced Life Support, meaning a paramedic will be part of all response calls, 24 hours a day.
“Collective work over a long period of time with the City of Peoria management, former Fire Administrations, Advanced Medical Transport and our Peoria area EMS office has brought us to where we are today,” said Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger, noting that the late former Chief Ernie Russell began the groundwork to bring ALS department-wide in the late 1990s.
At a news conference Monday, Sollberger said retired chief Jim Bachman secured funds from the federal fire assistance program to pay for the Engine 15 ALS upgrade, bringing the city to 11 stations with service. The remaining outlier is Station 11 on West Florence Avenue, and Sollberger said the department is also seeking additional AFG funding for an upgrade there.
“Once we complete this training, education and certification process, Station 11 will complete all of the fire stations in the city,” he said.
Captain Tony Cummings, PFD district chief of operations, said the department had grown from two ALS companies with 16 paramedics in 2006 to now over 60 paramedics today, adding that he was delighted with the development at engine level 15.
“It just helps protect citizens. It helps provide the citizens of this area … a level of coverage they’ve never had before,” Cummings said, noting that ALS allows paramedics to deliver critical treatment faster and goes way beyond that. beyond the basic life support of oxygen and bandages.
“When you get to the ALS level, you put in IVs (and) intubation, where we can put a tube down your throat to help you breathe,” he said. “Then we can implement some of the drugs — specifically cardiac drugs — that we couldn’t give before to the citizens who lived in that area.
Sollberger said the need to elevate Engine 15 to ALS became a priority when the station’s service area changed.
“As we go through this training, education and call volume review process in place, the reason it took so long to get Engine 15 ALS status was for these reasons,” a- he declared. “So initially when we were trying to figure out what would be the best progression for our service, we didn’t think Engine 15 was the best resource.
“Over time when we redid Northmoor (Avenue) and they put the speed bumps in, engine 16 was answering the north end of Knoxville, we call it the ‘Knoxville Corridor’. We changed that for Engine 15, and their ALS call volume doubled.
Among those who joined Sollberg and Cummings at Monday’s press conference were Fifth District Councilman Denis Cyr, AMT General Manager Andrew Rand and Dr. Matt Jackson of Peoria Area EMS. Cyr called it a big day for the city and especially his district.
“The first time I ran for Fifth District Council I learned the difference between BLS and ALS and realized how important it was to have as many fire stations as possible being ALS” , said Cyr. “For the taxpayers of the Fifth District, we are paying more than our fair share of the City of Peoria’s revenue, so I believe the people of the Fifth District deserve the best.”
Sollberger acknowledged that financial constraints and staff reductions due to the city’s budget crisis amid COVID-19 have made it harder to complete the ALS upgrade for Engine 15 — but by no means less necessary. .
“Any time you have budget cuts and things like that, you have to start prioritizing things. But that being said, when you get into that level of service, you know, there are certain things you have to do,” he said.
“So reducing ALS and reducing paramedics at this particular stage is probably not an option. It is how we continue to train and educate our firefighters that is of utmost importance to our service.