Advanced life support equipment for fire engines among high-tech moves for Elgin department
By Mike Danahey email@example.com June 1, 2012 8:40PM
Elgin Fire Department engines from stations 1 and 5 are modified to have ALS (advanced life support equipment). The department plans to have all seven of its engines thusly equipped within the next 6 - 12 months.May 31, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:51AM
A project to have all Elgin Fire Department engines equipped with advanced life support capabilities is well under way and should be completed within the next six months to a year. The addition of ALS gear is among several high-tech moves being made by the department, Fire Chief John Fahy said.
The city council gave approval to the plan this spring. It allows the department to provide more service and potentially better and/or quicker care to emergency patients without adding extra personnel, according to the chief.
A paramedic engine went into service in 2008 when Fire Station 7 opened on Longcommon Parkway on the city’s far-west side. Another went into service in January of this year at Station 3 on Royal Boulevard, although Lt. Vince Rychtanek, who heads Elgin Association of Firefighters Union Local 439, noted that the department has had a paramedic engine at that station since the early 1990s.
In late April, ALS upgrades were completed on engines at Station 1 on Summit Street and at Station 5 on Villa Street, which Fahy said doubled the ALS service available on the city’s east side.
The three remaining engines are at Station 2 on Big Timber Road, Station 4 on South McLean Boulevard and Station 6 on West Chicago Street. Fahy said work on two of the three should be done soon, with the final upgrade on Engine 6 completed within a year.
The cost of each upgrade runs about $30,000, Fahy said. The ALS equipment added includes medications, defibrillators, equipment to clear a patient’s airway, oxygen, telemetry radio, a childbirth kit, and trauma supplies. The cardiac monitor is designed send information to a hospital.
Fahy noted that all modifications are being done in-house. The past five fire engines added to the Elgin fleet each came with a cabinet for medical supplies, and any future engine purchases will be units designed to have ALS capabilities. With older equipment, challenges involved retrofitting cabinets and installing electric outlets to run ALS equipment.
Fire Lt. Mike Oine, who was involved in engineering the addition of the ALS equipment, said the process for the two most recent upgrades went nicely.
The department also has five ambulances, which means one at every station except Royal Boulevard and West Chicago Street. Fahy said that with medical technology constantly evolving, changes frequently are incorporated into what the vehicles have. For example, a new theory is that intravenous fluids should be kept chilled, so the department is looking into upgrading ambulances with coolers of some sort.
Oine noted that the department has 18 tablet computers that are being equipped with software to allow for paperless reports and electronic filing ranging from inspections to patient medical information sent to and received from hospitals. A test program will be under way on Ambulances 1 and 2, with a plan to bring the effort live sometime this summer.
All this attention to ambulance-like detail is because reports show the department responds to more than 11,000 calls annually, with 8,300 of those for medical issues. As such, 90 of Elgin’s 133 firefighters also are full-fledged paramedics, with the others at least medical technicians.
Prior to the upgrades, if the ambulances in an area were busy, an engine would take trained medics to a medical call, and they could do some work on the patient. But they would lack the equipment and drugs to deal with certain situations until an ambulance also could get there.
The department frequently also sends an engine to ambulance calls. Fahy said the reasoning is because in many situations the extra help is needed for reasons that include lifting or moving patients, particularly heavier ones, and lending a hand if there is more that one sick person or victim.
That system is set up so the engine is ready to go to another call should it be needed, Fahy said. And the department is looking into buying a dispatch system to make it easier to determine on the front end if more than an ambulance crew will be needed on the scene.
Fahy said the paramedic engine concept that Elgin now is using is modeled after one in Naperville. The Bartlett Fire Protection District upgraded its engines and even a ladder truck to paramedic status last summer, and the Hampshire Fire Protection District adapted one of its engines in 2008.
He explained the reason behind the plan came from Sherman Hospital’s move from the northeast side of the city to Randall Road near Interstate 90, which impacted patient delivery times to hospitals and where a patient might be taken for emergency care. Provena Saint Joseph on the southwest side of Elgin, and St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, also play major roles in the emergency care system.
As an example, Fahy noted that an ambulance from Station 1 typically could have a patient to the old Sherman Hospital site (on Center Street on the city’s east side) and be back in service in about 15 minutes, but such calls now can mean 30 minutes before the ambulance returns to the station. At the same time, with Station 2 on Big Timber so close to the new hospital, its ambulance run times now are 15 only minutes compared to the previous 30 minutes to the former east-side hospital.
With ALS capabilities, if an ambulance is tied up for any reason — including the time it takes to get back and forth to a hospital — an engine crew can start care on-site and then have the available ambulance arrive to transport the patient.
Firefighter union contract negotiations with the city are still under way, but the ALS upgrades have nothing to do with them. Rychtanek called them good enhancements to provide a higher level of service for the city. And unlike in places such as Chicago, where labor is more delineated, Elgin and many other suburban departments have had firefighter-paramedics since the 1970s, he noted.
Dave Gathman contributed to this story.