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Article updated: 3/18/2013 11:53 AM

Private paramedics idea divides Lombard candidates

By Marie Wilson

The idea of using a private company to handle at least some ambulance calls in Lombard already has split sitting trustees along their usual political lines, and now the topic is dividing District 3 trustee candidates as well.

Trustee Zachary Wilson, who is running for re-election in District 3, asked several questions at a December board meeting about whether a private company could be hired to run a third ambulance during peak hours of demand for Lombard Fire Department services.

He said in an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald he supports privatization and wants the village to use a private ambulance service for a six-month trial to assess the possibility.

"I think privatization in every area where that would be an advantage financially, especially, is the way to go," said Wilson, a 53-year-old attorney. "I think the government should only do what they have to do, or the private sector cannot do, or what they can do better."

Wilson's challengers in the April 9 election, Reid Foltyniewicz and Muzzamil Saeed, have varying views on possible privatization of paramedics and ambulance service.

Foltyniewicz, a 29-year-old police officer for the village of Oak Brook, said he strongly opposes the use of contracted paramedics, while Saeed, a 39-year-old dentist, said it is something the village should consider if it helps enhance ambulance coverage or response times.

Wilson said using a private company may be a better alternative than hiring additional firefighter/paramedics because it could save in pension costs, training and possibly equipment. The fire department is two employees short of its full authorized staffing of 63.

Some of the current trustees who oppose privatization -- village president candidate Keith Giagnorio, Greg Gron and Bill Ware -- have questioned the abilities of paramedics working for private companies, but Wilson said any company the village would hire would provide qualified professionals who take their jobs seriously.

"I'm a little offended by comments from other board members that say these guys ... are imitations or wannabes," Wilson said. "There are more communities in DuPage that have private services than public services. I don't hear outcries from those communities saying their services are lacking."

In fact, 11 of 20 DuPage County communities in the Daily Herald's coverage area said they use paramedics from private companies in some way in their emergency response.

Fire departments or districts in Addison, Bensenville, Carol Stream, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn, Roselle, Oak Brook, Warrenville, West Chicago and Wheaton said they use private paramedics, while those in Aurora, Bloomingdale, Itasca, Lisle-Woodridge, Lombard, Naperville, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park and Winfield do not.

Foltyniewicz said private companies may not train their employees as thoroughly and may act as more of a hospital transport service than an emergency medical service. While Lombard fire employees are trained as firefighters and paramedics, Foltyniewicz said private ambulance company staffers are not trained to fight fires.

"If you're getting a privatized company coming in, it's less trained personnel," he said. "Private companies are about saving money; they're not about the people."

Saeed said his openness to considering the use of private paramedics comes from listening to resident concerns about adequate emergency medical services and response times. He said the busy area around Yorktown Center may warrant additional staffing a private company could provide, and he encourages further study of the issue.

"It is something to potentially look at," Saeed said about hiring private paramedics. "I know it's a citizen concern. As big of a town as Lombard is, are we getting enough coverage?"

Ÿ To see all our coverage of the Lombard District 3 Trustee race including candidate bios, go to dailyherald.com/news/politics/election/race/Lombard-Village-Board-District-3/.

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