by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
After residents expressed concern that the firehouse in Edgebrook might lose an ambulance because of the restructuring of the Chicago Fire Department program, local aldermen announced last week that the ambulance would remain at the station.
The department will be converting 15 basic life support ambulances in the city to advanced life support ambulances beginning Sept. 1. That would bring to a total of 75 ALS ambulances in the city as part of a new contract with the department that was approved by the City Council recently. The 5-year contract guarantees that firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians will receive an 11 percent pay raise, but ends free health care for workers who retire between the ages of 55 and 65. The contract also upgrades the ambulances.
Advanced life support ambulances can treat all life threatening emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes, child births, traumatic injuries, seizures, diabetic emergencies, allergic reactions, drug overdoses and severe burns. Basic life support ambulances deal with non-life threatening emergencies and rely on a speedy trip to the hospital.
The Engine 79 fire station is located at 6424 N. Lehigh Ave. Ambulance 92 serves the neighborhoods of Edgebrook, Edison Park, Norwood Park, Forest Glen, Sauganash, Jefferson Park, Old Irving, Galewood, Dunning, Rogers Park, Edgewater, Albany Park and Lincoln Square.
Residents of Edgebrook have been seeing fliers on a bulletin board at Happy Foods, 6415 N. Central Ave., and in other places urging them to call local legislators to fight the elimination of the ambulance. Local chambers of commerce have also received the letter.
The anonymous posting said that Ambulance 92 would be relocated to the West Side, either to the Engine 38 station, 3949 W. 16th St., or the Engine 96 headquarters at 439 N. Waller Ave.
"There are 3-4 ambulances that would respond to our area from distances as far away as 2-5miles, 3 of them can be blocked by trains while enroute to the emergency," the flier said. The nearest ambulance would be come from stations at Peterson Avenue and Pulaski Road, Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues, Raven and Avondale avenues and at 5400 N. Cumberland Ave. The flier states that there are 173,946 people living in the 41st, 45th and 39th wards.
"Back in May we had heard rumors that the Chicago Fire Department would be restructuring its ambulances and converting the BLS’ to ALS’," Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) said.
O’Connor said that she sent letters to the fire department commissioner opposing the idea, stating that the area has a busy intersection and Metra railroad tracks that carry from four to six freight trains per day in addition to regular Metra trains, that there are some traffic signal problems that she is addressing, and that the neighborhood has an aging population that needs medical services in case of emergencies.
"It may not be as busy as other fire houses, but sometimes the services to the community can’t be driven by just data," O’Connor said. "In the 41st Ward, it a life safety situation. These are serious calls that can mean life and death.
"That intersection alone, with the train tracks, should warrant an ambulance," O’Connor said.
Also opposing the move is state Representative John D’Amico (D-15) and Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th).
"I joined up with aldermen O’Connor and Laurino in expressing my concern to commissioner Santiago that we should keep that ambulance there," D’Amico said. "It’s important that we keep that ambulance there because of the train tracks and the traffic, but our position has been made clear."
But nothing is certain yet.
Chicago Fire Department Media Affairs director Larry Langford said that the department appreciates the concern of people who have been fostering awareness of the conversion plans.
"As part of our ambulance restructuring, we are taking a look at total run volume of each ambulance, where those runs are and the nature of the calls and the location and distance of receiving hospitals and trauma centers," Langford said. "This analysis is still in progress and it is premature to say where the new ALS ambulance will be housed. Keeping it at the current location of Ambulance 92 has not been ruled out.
"Once all the data is in we will announce and explain how the decisions was made. The new conversion program is designed to better serve all areas of Chicago, without shortchanging any single neighborhood in the process. We are confident that when the final allocation results are published, (residents) will be satisfied with our deployment plans and will agree that coverage is better than before."
O’Connor said that she appreciates that people are holding her accountable.
"The strength of this community is that they are very vocal about the issues that are important to them and they raise awareness by any means necessary. This community is so much involved."