The number of Hoffman Estates Fire Department ambulances operating daily dropped from four to three Tuesday, bringing service levels back to where they were more than four years ago.
To save $500,000 in overtime costs next year, the village board agreed Monday night to authorize the fire chief to determine service levels on a day-to-day basis. Fire Chief Robert Gorvett said this means the ambulance at Station 22, 1700 Moon Lake Blvd., will not operate when the department would have to pay overtime to staff it, which is the case for the forseeable future.
Gorvett said residents shouldn't be concerned about the cut though.
"If I thought that the safety and welfare of the residents were at risk I wouldn't recommend it," he said.
Not everyone agreed. Around a dozen people were present at the meeting to protest the change.
Dean Slater, president of the Hoffman Estates Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 2061, said the union is opposed to the decision because "time is crucial" in responding to emergencies and ambulance 22 is one of the busiest in the Northwest suburbs.
Of the village's four fire stations, Station 22 is located closest to a hospital, a factor Gorvett said was taken into consideration when deciding which ambulance to cut without impacting service to outlying areas. Ambulance 22 has been operating since September 2007.
Gorvett said prior to that, three ambulances were sufficient in reaching the department's goal of arriving on the scene with a vehicle capable of providing advanced life support care within six minutes of an alarm for 90 percent of emergency medical responses.
"We think it's great that the village, with the surplus funds they had in '07, decided to give us our fourth ambulance," he said. "But quite frankly, we never asked for it because the numbers aren't there to justify it. It was a great enhancement while it lasted."
In a letter to Village Manager James Norris, Gorvett said historically the "call load" has not supported the need for an ambulance at all four fire stations.
An analysis of 2010 EMS response statistics shows that of the 3,975 incidents in the year, 2,157 were in District 22. On average, ambulance 22 had 5.9 incidents per day, compared to 2.7 a day for ambulance 21, 1.3 for ambulance 24 and 1.0 for ambulance 23.
However, the analysis showed that in neighboring communities the average number of annual EMS responses per ambulance is 1,308. With only three ambulances in service, Hoffman Estates would average just 17n more responses per ambulance in a year, at 1,325.
The village's 2012 budget, which was also approved Monday, includes funding only for the 93 personnel currently on the department's rooster. In 2008, the department was authorized to have 106 sworn personnel, but since then 13 have retired and not been replaced due to the recession.
Because six of the firefighters are on medical leave or military deployment, overtime costs have increased in the last six months to a point where something needed to be done, officials said. As firefighters come back to work, the ambulance may be put back in service on select days.
"We just don't have the money to replace the people and the board does not want to, during this stage of the economy, add a new tax or raise taxes," Norris said.
Resident Marilyn Allison said she was "just mighty perturbed" with the board.
"They keep using 2007 as a point of reference. So much has changed since 2007," she said, adding that she felt the board had made a decision prior to the meeting and didn't listen to the residents who were present.
Norris said he feels it is difficult for people to understand that it's the personnel who provide service.
"The rescue squad and the fire truck that's at Station 22 now will respond, just like they always have, and one of the outlying … ambulances will respond to do the transport," he said. "The emergency medical care will be delivered by the people who arrive on the scene. The care starts immediately."