Rapid Response SUV is city committee’s pick to enhance EMS options

City manager, committee members favor vehicle over third ambulance or ALS fire engines

Rapid response
(Top left: Elmhurst Titan file photo; Top right: Photo courtesy of the city of Elmhurst; Bottom left: City of Elmhurst graphic; Bottom right: Photo courtesy of the city of Naperville)

ELMHURST – If the City Council takes the advice of the city manager and the Public Affairs and Safety Committee, then Elmhurst will soon add a Rapid Response ALS vehicle to its emergency medical service offerings.

After extensive examination of statistics and data gathered by the Elmhurst Fire Department and other city staff members, the three aldermen who make up the committee all said March 23 that they agreed with City Manager James Grabowski’s recommendation. The other options that were under consideration were adding a third ambulance or outfitting city fire engines with Advanced Life Support equipment.

“If we did nothing, we still have best in class coverage in DuPage County. I am 100 percent comfortable saying that, I am 100 percent comfortable as an Elmhurst resident saying that. But Elmhurst doesn’t settle for good enough.”

Doing nothing and leaving services as they currently stand was also considered and rejected. Committee chairman Chris Healy emphasized, as he had a previous meetings, that trends showing an increase in EMS calls in the city were unlikely to change in the immediate future.

“As I sit here right now, I am 100 percent confident in the service we provide to the community of Elmhurst,” Healy said. “If we did nothing, we still have best in class coverage in DuPage County. I am 100 percent comfortable saying that, I am 100 percent comfortable as an Elmhurst resident saying that.

“But Elmhurst doesn’t settle for good enough.”

Ongoing process

The committee and the fire and police departments, over the course of four consecutive meetings, looked into data showing instances where fire engines reached the scene of emergency medical calls before ambulances.

After looking into anecdotal reports that there were times that ambulances arrived long after an Elmhurst Fire Department engine, which can only offer a Basic Life Support level of service, the data showed that in those instances, there was a average gap of two minutes and 54 seconds before an ambulance arrived. In some cases that was an ambulance from a neighboring community because both Elmhurst ambulances were in use, and in other cases one of the Elmhurst ambulances did arrive to the scene but was delayed because it had just been in use.

While these instances were rarely seen in the overall scheme of things – something like three percent of all calls – the committee still felt that it was important to try to close that gap.

“Eight minutes is an acceptable response time for ALS,” Healy said. “I trust that, because professionals are telling me that. But as a resident of Elmhurst, that doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t. I’m glad that 97 percent of the time we’re there under four minutes, but for that three percent that we’re not, that doesn’t feel right.”

Committee member Norman Leader agreed.

“I cant help but think at my age, I might be the next guy you send out for,” Leader said. “So, it’s kind of personal in that sense.”

Third ambulance option rejected

Grabowski and Healy each pointed to adding a third ambulance as the first option they rejected of the three. Grabowski said that while Lombard recently added a third ambulance, it’s not the best option for Elmhurst yet.

“That’s on the horizon somewhere, there’s no question about that, in fact, Lombard just implemented a third ambulance, for the number of calls they have,” he said. “They’re significantly far above, I think, everybody else in DuPage County, based on relative size, but I think we can take that off the table.”

Healy’s thinking was similar.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “If the number of calls continue to increase at 15 percent over five years, some future council may want to look at that in five years.”

Flexibility and cost certainty

When it came down to deciding between the Rapid Response vehicle vs. ALS engines, it appeared that the flexibility and cost certainty of the SUV option won the day

“My recommendation, I talked to [Fire Chief Thomas Freeman], is to implement the ALS [Rapid Response] car,” Grabowski said. “I think that’s really the best bang for our buck. We start staffed 24 hours, it gives us the best coverage, the quickest response, and also the most flexibility.”

Once again, Healy and the other committee members were in agreement.

“The ALS [fire engine] companies range from zero [dollars], if you believe that, to something more than zero,” Healy said. “We know the rapid response is $164,000 for a year. Yeah, that’s a lot of money, but in the scope of how much we spend on emergency responses and medical responses, it’s not that great a number.

Committee member Dannee Polomsky had similar thoughts.

“I’m not convinced that questions associated with implementing ALS companies are and can be immediately answered,” she said. “And I think that we recognize that we can improve our service immediately. I would like to move forward with Rapid Response.”

Future for ALS engines?

Two Elmhurst firefighters and an Elmhurst resident who is a firefighter in another community were in attendance, and all three lamented the decision not to go with ALS engines.

“I’m a firefighter with the Elmhurst Fire Department,” said Ed Siuzdak. “I’m kind of disappointed that we’re going to have 12 to 14 firemen showing up as paramedics that will not be able to provide ALS services. It’s happened there before in critical calls that potentially their assistance or ALS would make a difference or could’ve made a difference.”

“Virtually every municipality in DuPage County, including Naperville, alongside their rapid response, has ALS companies. There’s a reason for that, it’s proven over time that it is the most efficient way to supplement ALS transport.”

Earlier in the meeting, the committee had briefly gone into executive session to consider an offer from the firefighters union to implement ALS engines, but details of that offer were not discussed.

“I would just like to remind the committee that … virtually every municipality in DuPage County, including Naperville, alongside their rapid response, has ALS companies,” said Steve Wroble of the Elmhurst Fire Department. “There’s a reason for that, it’s proven over time that it is the most efficient way to supplement ALS transport.”

After the public comments, Healy spoke again to reassure that even with the committee recommending the Rapid Response option, that didn’t mean ALS engines would never be implemented.

“I’ll say this, it’s got to go before [the City] Council, so this is not a done deal, the ALS Rapid Response. We’ll see what happens on April 3,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, conversations can continue, I’ll say that. I don’t know that we’ll look at it again as a committee, per se, but conversations can be ongoing. It doesn’t close the door for any one thing. If things change, we’ll certainly take a look.”

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