Firefighters seek life-saving CPR devices

Firefighters seek life-saving CPR devices

CHAMPAIGN — As firefighters spend more time answering medical calls, fire departments around the county are chipping in to buy automatic chest compression devices.

The purchase of 24 devices will be aided by a federal grant, which the city of Champaign applied for on behalf of the county. The Champaign City Council will vote Tuesday to approve spending $12,519 on the CPR-performing devices.

Each fire department that receives devices is pitching in to cover 10 percent of the cost, according to Urbana Fire Chief Brian Nightlinger. He said Urbana is slated to get five devices, and Champaign is asking for nine.

With about 40 years of industry experience each, Nightlinger and Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig said the job skills began expanding in the late 1980s and early '90s. In addition to taming blazes, they said their firefighters spend about half their time treating medical problems in the realm of heart attacks and strokes.

"It was a natural fit for the fire service to get involved with emergency medical services," Ludwig said.

He noted that his department arrives before ambulances "over 95 percent of the time" because of strategic fire station placement.

Nightlinger said local ambulances aim for six-minute travel times while his firefighters are expected to take four-and-a-half minutes. In critical situations, firefighters sometimes even drive ambulances to the hospital or continue helping victims during the trip.

That level of involvement requires medical training. Nightlinger said his department trains on emergency medical services every month and his emergency medical technicians have to be certified by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

For Ludwig, each of his firefighters has to be licensed either as a paramedic or emergency medical technician.

"The skill sets for firefighters are so diversified now," Nightlinger said. "It seems like there's always something else that comes up — a big concern right now is active shooters and working with police to assist violence victims."

If the council approves the purchase, Ludwig said the compression devices should be in use by January.

"This equipment is going to be extremely useful to us," he said. "CPR is a very physically taxing process, and this device does continuous compressions."