Resources 'stretched' in North Peoria

DeWayne Bartels
Station 16 fire fighter Bob Elston, in rear with gray shirt, and engineer Bob Lundholm, back to camera, assist AMT paramedics with a rescue call at Sterling Towers May 6.

Peoria fire chief Kent Tomblin said in fire service there is very little one can predict.

But, he said, in Peoria one thing fire fighters are assured of is that the service calls they answer are going to grow annually, especially in North Peoria.

“We’ve been increasing our responses consistently over the past 10 years,” Tomblin said last week.

“Our territory has increased. And, baby boomers have hit us.”

Challenges

When Tomblin said baby boomers have “hit” the fire department he meant an aging population is straining the fire department’s resources in North Peoria.

“In the next five years I expect their (North Peoria’s) response numbers will increase even more,” Tomblin said.

The growing number of people without insurance, even in North Peoria, he said is becoming a challenge.

“Our fire department will see incredible increases in calls. People will be waiting until a medical condition becomes an emergency. We may well become the new pre-hospital care mechanism,” Tomblin said.

“We’ve been preparing ourselves for that for years. The plan is when that becomes a need we’ll be ready.”

‘Different animal’

On Northmoor Road, between Allen Road and University, sits the busiest fire house in North Peoria. It is in a small building simply called Station 16.

This fire house, Tomblin said, is a perfect example of what is happening in North Peoria.

“In the valley we’re very well situated,” Tomblin said. “In North Peoria we’re stretched.”

He said in 1999, Station 16 had an annual call load of about 1,000. Last year Station 16 was the sixth busiest fire house in the city with 1,955 calls, 511 calls short of the busiest fire house in the city.

“The population has changed out north. Now, we have a whole lot of facilities that care for the aged,” Tomblin said.

Station 16 serves four of those facilities - Rosewood, Glen Elm, Bickford House and Independence Village.

Randy Osborne, an acting captain, was at Station 16 on May 6 overseeing the house. He expected a busy day.

“Sometimes out here it’s non-stop. It’s definitely gotten busier over the years,” he said.

Station 16 averages 9-12 calls a day.

About 70 percent of the calls at that house, he said are medical-related calls.      

Osborne has spent most of his 19 years with the fire department south of War Memorial. He is entering his second month working in North Peoria.

He struggled to find a politically correct way to describe the difference between working north and south of War Memorial.

“It’s a different animal out here,” he said. “Out here we see more legitimate calls. People don’t call us out here for nose bleeds.”

Fire call numbers in North Peoria, he said, are much lower. But, he added, fires in North Peoria tend to be more serious.

The other difference, he said, is distance.

Station 16 was built in 1967, at what was then on the northern edge of the city. Today the station sits at near the central part of the city, Osborne said. With fewer fire houses in North Peoria and the city growing dramatically Osborne said distance is an issue.

“Let’s say we have to go to Picture Ridge or Greenview Nursery,” he said. “That’s a great distance when time is of the essence.”

Osborne did not have to depend on just words to get his point across May 6.

Going the distance

Osborne and the other five firefighters housed at Station 16 operating Engine 16 and Truck 14 were called to Station 15 on Detweiller Road for training with the ladder on Truck 14.

As the men practiced putting a five gallon bucket of water on the roof of the fire house without spilling any water a medical call at Sterling Towers came in at 11:25 a.m.

Station 13 would normally handle the call but they were on another call.

Engine 16 was given the call, miles from the location of the call. They hit the road flying up Pioneer Parkway, then left on University to Glen. During the trip with lights and sirens going they had to slow several times for traffic.

A four minute response time was out of the question. Once at the facility the three firefighters were met by locked doors and no one to greet them which further delayed their response. 

The patient on the third floor was being tended to by AMT paramedics.

But, the paramedics were happy to see the firemen arrive. Their patient, an elderly man, had fallen. He was semi-conscious and nauseous.

The fire fighters helped the paramedics assess the situation and get the man on a backboard and then a gurney for the trip down to the ambulance.

Like Osborne, Scott Johnson, 34, an engineer at Station 16, is disturbed by the growing distance machines in North Peoria have to travel.

“There’s a lot of traffic out here to deal with. It has become a lot more congested,” Johnson said.

“It seems the traffic anymore is incredible. But, we find a way to get there as fast as possible.”

Osborne said he was not surprised by that statement.

“The guys here are individuals with a real nature for this work,” he said.

“You wouldn’t believe what they can do with their positive attitude.”