BLOOMINGTON Changes to the Lifeline Mobile Medics ambulance service won’t cost Bloomington taxpayers more money or make them wait longer for a city rescue squad, Bloomington Fire Chief Keith Ranney said Friday.
The Bloomington Fire Department will take over Lifeline’s service to rural areas in McLean County as part of a downsizing plan announced by city and company officials Thursday.
Some residents expressed concern that their tax bills would have to subsidize the service, or that an ambulance might be out of town when it’s needed in the city.
"We’re not investing any additional money or people to do this. All we’re going to do is offer that service to the communities if they want it," Ranney said. "We’re not going to force this on anyone."
Ranney’s comments came as area officials reacted to the news that Lifeline Mobile Medics, the countywide ambulance service, will discontinue its emergency service by 2009 and concentrate on non-emergency transportation. Twin City officials favor the plan, but at least one rural fire chief still has questions about how it will work.
Ranney and other Twin City officials said they believe having local fire departments take over Lifeline’s ambulance service is the answer for providing efficient emergency medical care in McLean County.
Now, city rescue squads offer basic emergency medical service, but Lifeline handles calls requiring more advanced, paramedic care. That often means sending a city rescue squad and Lifeline ambulance to the same call.
"I’m excited about this long-term solution," Bloomington City Manager Tom Hamilton said. "We’ve been studying this issue for decades. It’s time that we reach a final solution and I think we got one."
With a new $2.25 million fire station expected to open on Six Points Road by early 2008, Ranney said Bloomington will be ready to handle Lifeline’s rural calls by 2009 with compromising city service.
"We’re looking at answering probably two to three calls per day out in the county," he said. "That’s what Lifeline’s doing now.”
Downs, Shirley, Towanda, Hudson and Bloomington Township are some of the communities that rely strictly on Lifeline for ambulance service.
Rural ambulance customers will be billed for service at the same rate as in-town users, plus a mileage charge. Ranney said.
Ed Underhill, chief of LeRoy’s fire district, said he wonders if Bloomington will be able to provide rural communities with sound ambulance service.
"If one of their rigs is out on a rural call and they have multiple calls in the city, I wonder which call takes precedent," Underhill said. "That’s the question I have. But they have three years to figure it out."
The Bloomington and Normal fire departments also will have to send firefighters through paramedic training by 2009 under the plan.
Bloomington plans to hire 18 firefighters before the new station opens, and Ranney said each new hire will be required to have paramedic training already.
In Normal, Mayor Chris Koos said the town plans to pay its firefighters to go through paramedic training, which typically involves at least three semesters of schooling.
"We’re going to ask for volunteers. It’s a commitment to go through that," Koos said. "We’ve talked with our firefighters and we’re confident there are enough people to step up and get that training."
While Bloomington will handle ambulance service in rural parts of the county, city officials initially asked Normal for help providing emergency care to all of McLean County.
Koos said the town declined. Officials didn’t want to pay or risk hurting their service by sending ambulances into the county.
"We just felt we weren’t able to do it," Koos said. "We couldn’t justify the cost. We didn’t feel comfortable sending our ambulances into the county, given our level of service now."