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Article updated: 7/9/2013 8:35 PM

Elgin fire deparment wants heavy loaders for amublances

By Elena Ferrarin

As Americans increase in size, so does the strain on emergency services personnel who must load patients into ambulances.

The Elgin Fire Department plans to ask the city council's committee of the whole on Wednesday to move forward with a $32,100 expense for a system that will make that easier to do while preventing injuries to personnel.

Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said he hopes to outfit one ambulance with a Power-LOAD system made by the Stryker Corp. to mechanically load cots in the vehicle. The system can handle patients weighing up to 700 pounds.

"Bariatric patients are becoming more common," he said. "This system eliminates that lifting."

The department's five ambulances are already outfitted with mechanical cots made by Stryker EMS, but the cots currently have to be loaded manually into the ambulance.

Several suburban fire departments have started using Stryker's Power-LOAD system, which was introduced in May 2012.

Hanover Park's newest ambulance has had the system for about six weeks, Hanover Park Fire Chief Craig Haigh said.

The expense was paid for by the village's foreign fire insurance tax board, which could outfit a second ambulance by the end of the year, he said. Those funds come from taxes paid by out-of-state insurance companies that sell fire insurance in Illinois.

"My people cannot say enough about it. Our goal is to outfit all of them," Haigh said.

Deputy Chief Keith Krestan of the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District said three of the department's four ambulances are outfitted with Stryker Power-LOAD systems, with the final one coming soon, he said.

"They are phenomenal," Krestan said. "The firemen like them a lot. We had very, very minor maintenance issues with them. They have worked very well."

A grant from the Illinois Public Risk Fund, which provides the fire district's workmen's compensation insurance, paid for about half the cost, he said.

The expense is well worth the long-term savings from avoiding workers' compensation claims and related costs like overtime to fill in for injured employees, Krestan said.

Elgin Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said Elgin has self-insured fire department workers' compensation, so it is not eligible to apply for IPRF grants.

In Skokie, the American Legion Post 320 donated three Stryker loading systems, with a fourth one currently being installed, Skokie Fire Department Deputy Chief Barry Liss said.

Once installed, the lift is used for all patients, regardless of their size, so the positive effect on firefighters is cumulative, he said.

"We love them. What's not to like?" he said.

Naperville Fire Department Bureau Chief Mark Thurow said he hopes to follow suit soon.

The department budgeted about $400,000 next year to outfit its eight ambulances with some sort of power lift system, whether made by Stryker or a different company, he said. Naperville is also self-insured for workers' compensation, he said.

"We we want to prevent any injury to our employees so they can provide service to us for a full career, and we want to reduce workers' comp claims," he said. "It's also the recognition that we have an increasingly large population."

If the Elgin City Council approves the expense and the Power-LOAD system is a success, Fahy said he hopes the department's other ambulances can eventually be outfitted.

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