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BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington firefighters support having their department take over Lifeline Mobile Medics' ambulance service in rural McLean County over the next three years, the head of the firefighters union said Tuesday.

Dave Talley, president of Local 49 of the Illinois Association of Fire Fighters, said Bloomington firefighters can handle the extra calls, but added firefighters won't be offended if other agencies want to take on the role of replacing Lifeline's rural coverage.

Lifeline, the countywide ambulance service run by OSF Healthcare and BroMenn Healthcare, announced plans last week to discontinue its emergency ambulance service by 2009 so it can focus primarily on non-emergency transportation. Lifeline ambulances respond to calls that require paramedics, who have more advanced medical training, and to calls where no local rescue squads are available.

Bloomington firefighters would prefer responding only to calls in the city, but Talley said that wasn't an option. With the town of Normal choosing not to send ambulances into the county, "someone had to step up" and provide rural areas with an option for emergency ambulance service, Talley said.

"We're not doing this because we want to take over in the rural communities. It was a matter of someone had to provide the service and we agreed to do it. It was really put on us to do," Talley said. "Bloomington's not taking over the show."

Dave Polley, president of Normal's firefighters union, could not be reached to comment on the proposal.

Anna Lee Fenger, chairwoman of Lifeline's board, said Tuesday that having Bloomington firefighters take over Lifeline's calls is just one solution for getting paramedic ambulance service into rural areas. Another plan calls for a countywide taxing district for ambulance service while a third proposes the creation of an independent agency to oversee emergency ambulance service in McLean County.

Several emergency responders in rural areas have expressed concerns about having Bloomington take over Lifeline's coverage in rural areas. They worry that Bloomington ambulances would be unavailable to cover rural areas in the event of a major fire or emergency in the city.

Many of the communities have rescue squads of their own but they don't have the money to train or hire paramedics needed for responding to medical emergencies.

Talley said he hopes Bloomington and rural communities can come up with a solution to address those concerns by 2009. Talley said he also hopes Normal officials reconsider their position that it's too expensive to send the town's ambulances into the county.

"There's a whole lot of options out there for what the people in the county want to do," Talley said. "I hope the rural service works itself out over the course of time. This is just the beginning of where EMS in McLean County is going to evolve."

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