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Peoria Fire Department upgrades Station 15's emergency services

Peoria Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger speaks Monday during a news conference detailing Engine 15's transition of its emergency medical service to Advanced Life Support.
Joe Deacon
Peoria Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger speaks Monday during a news conference detailing Engine 15's transition of its emergency medical service to Advanced Life Support.

A fire station on Peoria’s north side is now able to provide upgraded emergency medical services, leaving the city with just one station still lacking the capability.

As of 7 a.m. Monday, Engine 15 based on Detweiller Drive transitioned from basic to Advanced Life Support, meaning a paramedic will be a part of all response calls, 24 hours every day.

“The collective work over a long period of time with the City of Peoria leadership, former fire administrations, Advanced Medical Transport, and our Peoria Area EMS Office has gotten us where we are today,” said Fire Chief Shawn Sollberger, noting that late former chief Ernie Russell started the groundwork to bring ALS to the whole department in the late 1990s.

At a Monday news conference, Sollberger said retired Chief Jim Bachman secured federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant program dollars to pay for Engine 15’s ALS upgrade, bringing the city up to 11 stations with the service. The remaining outlier is Station 11 on West Florence Avenue, and Sollberger said the department is seeking additional AFG money for an upgrade there, too.

“Once we're through that training and that education and the certification process, then Station 11 will finish off every fire station in the city,” he said.

Capt. Tony Cummings, the PFD district chief of operations, said the department has grown from two ALS companies with 16 paramedics in 2006 to now having more than 60 paramedics today, adding he’s ecstatic over the Engine 15 upgrade.

“It just keeps the citizens safer. It helps provide the citizens around this area ... a level of coverage that they haven't done before,” said Cummings, noting that ALS allows paramedics to administer critical treatment faster and goes well beyond the Basic Life Support of oxygen and bandages.

“When you get to the ALS level, you're introducing IVs (and) intubation, in which we can put a tube in your throat to help you breathe," he said. "Then we can implement some of the medications — expressly cardiac medications — that we couldn't give before to citizens that lived in this 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 process of training, education, and looking at the call volume that's in place, the reason why it took so long to get Engine 15 to the ALS status was for those reasons,” he said. “So initially, when we were trying to figure out what would be the best progress for our department, 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 used to respond to the north end of Knoxville, we call it the ‘Knoxville corridor.’ We changed that to Engine 15, and their ALS call volume doubled.”

Among those joining Sollberg and Cummings at Monday’s news conference were Fifth District Councilman Denis Cyr, AMT Chief Executive Officer Andrew Rand and Dr. Matt Jackson of Peoria Area EMS. Cyr called it a great day for the city and especially his district.

“The first time I ran for the Fifth District council, that's when I learned difference between BLS and ALS and I 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 pay more than our fair share to the revenues for the City of Peoria, so I think the people the Fifth District deserve the best.”

Sollberger acknowledged that financial restraints and staffing reductions from the city’s budget crunch amid COVID-19 made it more challenging to get the ALS upgrade for Engine 15 completed — but in no way less necessary.

“Anytime you're going through budgetary cutbacks and things like that, you have to start to prioritize things. But that being said, when you're getting into this level of service, you know, there's certain things that you have to do,” he said.

“So cutting back on ALS and cutting back on paramedics probably at this particular point is not an option. It's how we continue to train and educate our firefighters is the utmost importance to our department.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.