As part of budget preparation for the coming fiscal year, Peoria City Council held a Feb. 4 study session with public safety representatives.
Peoria Fire-Medical Department leaders voiced appreciation for past funding from the council, then hinted at more requests to come.
Jim Bratcher, deputy chief of emergency medical services, provided background on the department’s relatively new ambulance service, which began in 2017.
“This was a phased approach,” he noted. “In January 2017, our first two ambulances went into service. Our second phase we added the next two ambulances. Just last month we implemented our fifth.”
Bratcher said from January 2017 to December 2019, his department made 13,768 ambulance transports.
“Our goal was to be cost neutral .... 7,073 transports have been billed,” he said, adding after first having third-party billing, in-house billing was implemented in November 2018.
“We have seen increased efficiency, we have seen increased customer service,” he said.
Bratcher gave an update on a community paramedicine program. United Healthcare funds the unique partnership between Peoria, Surprise and Goodyear.
“We kicked it off in September of 2019, and we have one year of funding,” he said. “We trained 13 community paramedics. The first quarter (of the program) we saw 78 patients and made 128 referrals.”
Bratcher said part of the goal is to cut down on emergency calls by those who frequently access the 911 system.
“We look at home safety, transportation needs and try to make referrals into community programs that exist and reduce 911 calls. …. We’re dealing with trying to find the root cause of why they’re calling 911,” he said.
“People who are frequently using the 911 system, we’ve found historically there’s usually an underlying need that has not been met and their last resort is the 911 system and they’re not sure what to do other than call. Our job is to go in and find the source or sources in some cases and to provide them resources so they decrease their reliance on the 911 system.”
Rob Brewster, a second Peoria Fire-Medical deputy chief, talked about the department’s employee wellness program and cancer prevention.
Frontline personnel have two sets of personal protective equipment, or PPE, he said. “And after exposure to carcinogens, they go through decontamination.” The second pair of PPE allows them to be available for calls while the first pair is cleaned.
He said firefighters are routinely exposed to carcinogens, from diesel exhaust to active structure fires.
Protecting firefighters from things potentially causing cancer “is something we’re aggressively addressing,” Brewster said.
He also noted, despite fire station remodels and expansions, “We are out of space.”
Brewster pointed to six new senior living facilities in Peoria and “a 5% growth in emergency medical services over the last year.”
Councilwoman Vicki Hunt told Brewster she was impressed by the multi-faceted nature of the firefighters’ jobs.
“I hope people are watching to see all the miraculous things you do,” Hunt said. “I know people watch shows on TV and think you sit around playing poker and having romances …
“You people are so appreciated.”
Noting the demands and stress of the job, Councilman Bill Patena asked how the fire-medical department detects things like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among firefighters.
“One of the challenges we face in the fire service is the stigma about getting help for mental health issues. It’s always been, ‘Just suck it up,’” said Brewster.
He said a new peer support team is trying to turn this way of thinking around, and be on the lookout for those who may need help but don’t know how to ask.
“I’m really proud of our fire department,” said Councilwoman Denette Dunn, after an hour presentation. “Keep doing what you do.”
It drew a quip and a return thank-you from Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz.
“A dream without resources is nothing more than sleep deprivation,” said Ruiz.
“Thank you for your support.”