A Publication of WTVP

Today’s professionals are so much more than “just” firefighters.

Quick! What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear “professional firefighter”? Now, write that word down, and we’ll revisit it at the end of this article.

If you’re like many residents, you may not understand exactly what the professional firefighters of Peoria do. There are several reasons for this. For starters, professional firefighters don’t spend a lot of time promoting themselves. We don’t have an annual ceremony honoring a “Firefighter of the Year.” We don’t publish yearly statistics of how many people were saved from burning homes or how many people we were able to revive after a significant medical event. We don’t discuss how many people were saved after boating accidents or hazardous material incidents. We don’t talk about these things for one reason: it’s our job.

Another reason so few know about what we do is because what we do isn’t very glamorous. Saving someone from a burning home will usually warrant a single-paragraph article on page B2 of the Journal Star. While shootings and violent crime are front-page news, you rarely see a photograph of a fire in Peoria because professional firefighters have usually extinguished it long before the media gets to the scene. And that’s the way it should be.

Highly-Trained & Multi-Talented
We could ask 90 percent of the citizens of Peoria what the professional firefighter does, and they might respond, “They put fires out.” But in truth, our reality extends far beyond fire. Today’s professional firefighter has evolved into a highly-trained, highly-educated, multi-talented public servant. The firefighter is a diver, a hazardous-material technician, a high-angle rescuer and a confined-space rescuer. At minimum, all Peoria firefighters are trained to the EMT-Basic level, while more than 25 percent are trained to the Paramedic level—the highest level of EMT training—meaning they can provide advanced life-support techniques.

Imagine today’s cardiac arrest patient. With Peoria’s pre-hospital system, he or she will have at least two paramedics and three EMT-Basics on the scene providing care. While the EMT-Basics are doing CPR and defibrillation, the paramedics can put an advanced airway in place and establish intravenous therapy access to provide potentially life-saving drugs. The paramedics also have the ability to take a complete picture of a patient’s heart and determine not only if he or she is having a heart attack, but even what part of the heart is affected—and transmit that information to the hospital from the scene. Now the hospital is ready and the patient is taken directly to the Cath Lab, saving a tremendous amount of time and tissue.

Peoria Fire and Rescue also has a Haz-Mat team, dive team and Technical Rescue team, which are called on to assist in the aftermath of emergencies throughout the area. Peoria’s Technical Rescue team was the first specialized team on the scene in Washington after last year’s devastating tornado. The dive team has been called to Pekin, Chillicothe and other nearby cities to assist with underwater rescue and recovery or recover weapons and other evidence from the river or area lakes. Finally, Peoria’s Haz-Mat team is widely recognized as the finest in downstate Illinois. Simply put, there is not one emergency the professional firefighters of Peoria are not trained to mitigate.

No Matter What Emergency…
So how do the citizens of Peoria and visitors to the region stand to benefit from the Peoria Fire Department? No matter what emergency they encounter, day or night, our professional firefighters will arrive within four to six minutes and be able to handle it. The Peoria Fire and Rescue Department proved this with its response to more than 18,000 incidents in 2013. That’s not a typo: Peoria’s firefighters responded to over 18,000 alarms last year. Compare that to the 7,595 incidents reported in 1992. Despite this dramatic increase, the Peoria Fire and Rescue Department has virtually the same number of firefighters and paramedics as it did two decades ago.

You may be saying to yourself, “I’ll never experience any of these emergencies.” But let me ask you this: Do you have insurance on your home in case of a fire? Of course! We all do. The fact is we just never know what will happen from day to day. And as they say, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

In recent years, the department has perhaps made the greatest strides in the medical arena. In partnership with Advanced Medical Transport (AMT), the Peoria Fire/Rescue Department has a medical response that is second to none in pre-hospital care. Our citizens have never had a better chance of surviving a medical event than they do today. You can rest assured knowing that no matter what emergency you have, Peoria’s professional firefighters are here for you.

Now, did the word that came to your mind at the beginning of this article change? iBi

Anthony Ardis is president of Peoria Firefighters Local 50.