Rescue 33 can keep moving ahead, thanks to the unanimous vote of the Chillicothe City Council at its Jan. 28 meeting.
The council did not choose between Rescue 33, which has served the city for more than four decades, and Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois, which stepped in to provide ambulance service when Rescue 33's license was suspended. Rescue 33 has not been providing ambulance service since Sept. 4.
It remains to be seen whether the squad can secure a license or not, but squad members remain vigilant in seeking the necessary license.
The council meeting was standing room only, with many Rescue 33 squad members wearing their maroon Rescue 33 jackets and standing at the back of the room.
Support among the community seemed to remain high even after information was leaked to the Peoria Journal Star, which was supposed to remain private. The information was presented to the squad at a hearing.
Additionally, the city received a letter from Dr. Cheryl Colbenson, Peoria Area EMS medical director, in which she listed 11 deficiencies of Rescue 33 leading up to the squad's license suspension. Some of the deficiencies were PAEMS policies, such as failing to follow protocol regarding trauma patients, as well as state codes such as failing to respond to emergency calls 24 hours per day.
She also shared with the alderman "significant examples" of charts she looked at for six days in August 2012 while the squad was on probation. Of the seven cases, many noted no documentation of various assessments.
She also wrote of the squad being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan in October 2010. She noted three areas which needed assistance: quality improvement/quality assurance, personnel and missed calls.
"The issues leading up to placing Rescue 33 on a Performance Improvement Plan are the same issues which led to their subsequent probation and suspension. Despite multiple attempts to address this, the behavior didn't change," she wrote in bold.
Through her letter, Colbenson also updated the council on meeting with squad members Jan. 23, spelling out seven points of her expectations for a basic life support EMS agency. Those seven expectations include 24-hour service every day, response times, minimum staffing, an EMS personnel roster, education and continuing education, medical care documentation and quality patient care.
"As a result of the meeting, there were action items which Rescue 33 will need to report back to the PAEMS office prior to making a decision on reinstatement," she wrote.
Chris Cassidy, Rescue 33's attorney, spoke first to the council on Rescue 33's behalf and mainly touched upon the documents about Rescue 33's shortcomings.
"We made a conscious decision not to fight in the press," said Cassidy. The document was leaked a few days before the council meeting.
"The document was prepared by Peoria Area EMS to prepare for a hearing that basically was a laundry list of their allegations," said Cassidy. He said that those items were found to not have "merit." The document was never supposed to be released to the public.
Page 2 of 3 - He also mentioned the letter Colbenson wrote to the council.
"I think it's very obvious from that six-page document, they have us under a microscope. They are going to look at every little thing. We have to answer. We have to do it. And we welcome that because we think we can," said Cassidy.
Rescue 33 President Ron Hedden introduced the council to Kenny Martin of Peoria Heights, who will be the operations manager for the squad. He will oversee day-to-day operations at the garage.
City Clerk Sharon Crabel reported that the city received the letters of support from local townships that were referenced to at the Jan. 14 council meeting, the village of Hopewell and Woodland Heights, as well as more than 666 emails in support of Rescue 33. Many of the aldermen said they had received calls and emails as well.
"I hope 33 doesn't let our citizens down because I think we're all in support of them …" Alderman Mel Witte said.
Mayor Troy Childers Sr. also said he supported his aldermen as some of them had taken a bashing through social media on the topic.
Alderman Gary Sharp, who is married to longtime Rescue 33 treasurer Janet Sharp, read a prepared story and statement, ending with Rescue 33 asking for another chance.
"If Rescue 33 is to be no more, I think we will lose a good portion of the very fabric that holds our city together. We will lose that founding father quality of taking care of our own for little or no reward," said Sharp.
Resident Jerry Myers said he wished Rescue 33 and AMT could work together. "Let's get rid of the negativity around here. Let's go for the real facts. What do we want for care?"
Chillicothe Fire Chief John Myers told the council, "I had the opportunity to see what paramedics can do. I don't care what their name is, I'd like to see us have paramedic service for my family and everybody else."
He mentioned a firemen getting hurt at the Mossville house fire recently. The paramedics gave him fluids on scene and then sent him to the hospital.
"I want to make sure that my people have the best service that possibly they can do," said the fire chief.
Resident Judy Lauber said she, along with five others, had taken a paramedics class years ago. She said if the Rescue 33 members could do it years ago, they could again. She said she would do take the class again if a paid employee of Rescue 33.
Alderman Chris Boyer called for the vote after much discussion.
In the end, the council unanimously approved the motion to "request that the Peoria Area EMS Board finish the review process of the application for reinstatement to the PAEMS System submitted by Rescue 33 immediately, with the understanding that the Board will take as much time as necessary to complete the review process."
Page 3 of 3 - Shortly into the rest of the agenda, the mayor gaveled once and told the crowd to hold their talking.
At the end, Childers congratulated Rescue 33 for showing their support at the meeting. He asked them to call if they had questions instead of using Facebook.
Afterward, Hedden said, "I'm pleased that this part is behind us. Thank everybody for their support."
He also said the squad plans to keep residents informed of their progress in getting a license.
One week after the council vote, Hedden still wanted residents to know how thankful he was for the support of Rescue 33's membership, the community at large, the city council and other municipalities.
In total, Hedden said 1,099 people signed petitions for the squad with 1,040 from within the city, 800 in the townships and others that are unknown where they reside.