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March 7, 2012

Ill. department may add heart monitors to fire trucks

By Tara García Mathewson
Chicago Daily Herald

ELGIN, Ill. — Elgin paramedics on fire engines soon may be able to perform similar types of advanced life support procedures to the ones they now do on ambulances.

Fire Chief John Fahy is asking city council members to approve funding for five new cardiac monitors for fire engines that don't already have them. The is in the running to receive federal funding for three of those monitors. If the grant comes through, Elgin's portion of the cost will be $55,471. If it doesn't — which is the scenario the city council will consider Wednesday during its committee of the whole meeting — the city would be responsible for $138,680.

"Every day I have paramedics on the engines, but they don't have the equipment to give you that lifesaving technology if they get there before the ambulance," Fahy said.

Studies of fire department personnel shows ambulance paramedics spend a small portion of their time responding to medical calls. With ambulances traveling farther than they used to to the new Sherman Hospital location and fewer ambulances available, Fahy said it is time for a change.

"Our way of being more efficient with the taxpayer dollar was trying to go to this paramedic-engine concept," Fahy said.

Naperville fire engines also are outfitted for advanced life support, providing a model for Elgin. The upgrades would allow the fire engine crews to do all the same lifesaving procedures as ambulance crews, except actual transports to hospitals.

Fahy said up to 80 percent of fire department responses are for emergency medical service, prompting a change to the common thinking that firefighters arrive in fire engines and paramedics arrive in ambulances.

Council members on Wednesday also are set to consider purchasing tablet computers and the associated software for mobile medical reporting and fire inspections.

The technology upgrade would bring the fire department into the 21st Century, leaving behind a documentation practice that has been around for decades. Using the tablet computers, firefighters who do inspections or file medical reports can fill them out electronically, allowing for easier records access in the future.

The computers and associated software would cost a little more than $100,000. 

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