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Ill. towns opt for paramedic service as ambulance company retracts

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. Bloomington-Normal residents are expected to still have paramedic-level ambulance service after Sept. 1, and some rural agencies are starting their own ambulance services ahead of that date.

Officials with Lifeline Mobile Medics, the countywide paramedic service, announced March 1 the organization will stop taking emergency calls Sept. 1. That has left many small towns looking for ambulance coverage and the Twin City fire departments upgrading to paramedic-level service.

"I think things are pulling together nicely," said Greg Scott, McLean County emergency medical services coordinator. "Many of the agencies or protection districts that did not have ambulance transport capabilities and relied on Lifeline are moving forward rapidly."

Before Lifeline announced it would shut down the paramedic service, Twin City rescue squads were staffed by emergency medical technicians, which have more basic training than paramedics, and Lifeline s paramedics were called in for cases requiring more advanced care.

Lifeline also has provided all levels of ambulance service to many surrounding communities.

After Sept. 1, Lifeline will continue non-emergency transportation, such as transfers to and from nursing homes.

Scott said he doesn t anticipate gaps in basic life-support service during the transition. But it s too early to predict whether advanced life-support (paramedic) coverage will be available by Sept. 1.

Rural communities have been working to ensure ambulance service is available, Scott said. And the new ambulance services will give the county more medical resources.

"It has been encouraging to me to see the organizations come together and be willing to look forward for their citizens," Scott said. "They are working together, they are trying to collaborate and trying to come up with solutions to any problems that they are predicting may occur."

Lifeline s end date moved up

Lifeline officials said in announcing the end of paramedic service that the organization stood to lose about $974,000 during its fiscal year. It had planned to quit service on Jan. 1, 2009, but it later advanced the date by 16 months because of its finances and the Twin City departments progress toward paramedic service.

Lifeline Administrator David Anderson said his company continues taking a financial loss. But the service, which is run by the two Twin City hospitals, recently eliminated many phone lines and stepped up collecting debts from old accounts.

Bloomington, LeRoy and the Eastern McLean County Ambulance Association currently have paramedic-level service.

Normal Fire Chief Jim Watson said his department has three certified paramedics on staff, one on each shift, and they will man a chase vehicle, a sport utility vehicle used to bring paramedics to emergency scenes. The system will be in place Sept. 1.

Bloomington Fire Chief Keith Ranney said his department is still on schedule to have at least two paramedic-level ambulances staffed at all times by Sept. 1. One department ambulance and Lifeline currently provide advanced life-support service in Bloomington.

The city is on schedule to provide paramedics to outlying areas of the county by May 2008, and to take any calls into the county by January 2009, Ranney said.

The town of Normal will use its chase vehicle to patch a short-term gap while preparations continue to have a full staff of paramedics on the town s three ambulances by January 2009. The town still will have three ambulances staffed with EMTs at all times, Watson said.

Progress outside Twin Cities

Bloomington Township Fire Chief Tom Willan said his department now has an ambulance in its firehouse.

"We ve purchased an ambulance and we re going to start our own transport - our own (basic life-support) transport once Lifeline closes its doors," Willan said.

The 2001 model ambulance cost $56,000 and will be staffed by volunteer EMTs, Willan said. But the chief said he hopes to eventually have paid staff members work during days and paid on-call personnel available at night.

The township won t have paid medical personnel for at least 18 months, Willan said. Starting in September, his and surrounding departments will help one another if their own EMTs aren t available, he said.

"We re all in this to help each other out," Willan said.

Downs is scheduled to operate an ambulance this summer, and is among departments starting such services.

"We re in the process of looking at an ambulance for purchase, and also we re going to be using our in-house people," said Hudson Fire Chief Del Thomas, later adding he hopes it will take calls before Sept. 1.

The ambulances Thomas is looking closely at purchasing are models previously used for demonstrations and shows, and he said they typically cost between $90,000 and $120,000.

"They kind of caught us with our shorts down, and it s just one of those situations where we ve been hustling around," Thomas said. He said he and others have worked to "make sure we function and get what the people of community and the district deserve."

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