Despite Ambulance Rescue 33's attempt to regroup and regain an operating license, Chillicothe Fire Chief John Myers is now working with Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois to provide permanent full-time ambulance service based out of the downtown fire station.
Myers, who is also the chief of the Chillicothe Community Fire Department, said Monday he will submit the solution to the Peoria Area Emergency Medical System along with Andrew Rand, the chief executive officer of AMT.
"I, as fire chief, have asked AMT to continue serving this area on a permanent basis," Myers said Monday. "The reason for this request is that I believe these 16,000 citizens (in Chillicothe and surrounding townships) deserve the best pre-hospital care possible. The facts are that paramedic service is the best pre-hospital care possible and all of our citizens deserve the best."
Rand said he did expects PAEMS to approve its proposal.
"I do not anticipate any difficulty with that," he said.
AMT took over the area's ambulance service last September after Rescue 33's license was suspended by PAEMS for a long list of reasons including slow response times, missed calls and serious staffing deficiencies. Rescue 33 lost a subsequent appeal and is working with PAEMS, with that agency's guidance, on a plan to reorganize as a paid, professional ambulance service.
For almost 50 years, Rescue 33 operated with volunteer emergency medical technicians and didn't charge patients for ambulance calls.
Doug Marshall, the lawyer for PAEMS, offered a short statement on what the Rand and Myers proposal means to the continuing efforts of Rescue 33.
"Peoria Area EMS does not get involved in contractual matters, as long as the ambulance company is a licensed provider," Marshall wrote. "Any arrangement between AMT and the Chillicothe Fire Department does not necessarily end Rescue 33's application process."
Chris Cassidy, the attorney for Rescue 33, doesn't believe Myers has any authority to ask AMT to continue its service to Chillicothe on a permanent basis.
"It is my understanding that John Myers is appointed by the mayor and has no independent authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the city," Cassidy said. "His department is also not an (officially designated) fire district, so he also has no authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the townships."
The five area townships in the coverage area have all thrown support toward Rescue 33's attempt to regain its license.
Rand said Monday he didn't see the AMT proposal as competing with the Rescue 33 proposal, but rather as a permanent solution to the area's ambulance service needs. He said he needed to take the step to hire new paramedics to make coverage in the area economically feasible for his business. He said he is currently losing money covering Chillicothe.
The new paramedics would enable AMT to staff the ambulance service with paramedics who would work 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Staffing the service now is requiring AMT to pay out lots of overtime, a situation that is not financially sustainable.
Page 2 of 2 - "Right now we're crushing our staff with hours of overtime," Rand said. "That can't continue."
Eight candidates for the Chillicothe AMT service were interviewed Monday for the six positions.
For Myers, his decision to side with AMT over the homegrown, though currently unlicensed, services of Rescue 33, took not a small amount of courage.
"Yes it has been a hard decision, but it was the right decision," Myers said. "It's all about what the people out there deserve."
Chillicothe Mayor Troy Childers said he supports the Myers decision.
"I may not agree with (Myers) all the time," Childers said. "But I support my fire chief and I respect his knowledge."