MAHOMET — A shiny red vehicle turned heads on Main Street Monday morning, rolling out of Cornbelt Fire Protection District's firehouse, but this time it wasn't a fire engine.
Medic 2277, a new ambulance, responded to its first call following an agreement made between Cornbelt and Carle Arrow Ambulance last week.
"We're just so super excited," Cornbelt chief John Koller said. "This has been like waiting for a baby to be born, and now we have our baby."
The latest addition to Koller's apparatuses made its debut during Saturday's open house at the firehouse, where more than 60 attendees greeted the dually branded emergency vehicle.
Proud parents Cornbelt and Carle Arrow Ambulance began their relationship in 1996, when Carle agreed to have a paramedic on duty 24/7 at the fire station. And while the 23-year partnership has proved "tremendous" to those in its 96-square-mile area, Cornbelt's district population in that time has grown a whopping 70 percent.
Population aside, medical calls have also surged. In 1996, there were 243 medical calls, but in 2018, those increased to 768.
If anyone can attest to such growth, it's Carle Arrow Ambulance's west division operations manager Jimmy Zindars, who has lived in Mahomet his entire life, even beginning his career with Cornbelt in 1991 "fresh out of high school."
"Over the last few years, we've seen quite an increase in Cornbelt's volumes, and it just gave us an opportunity to start opening a dialogue," Zindars said. "Chief Koller, my director Larry Sapp, they started having discussions, and really over the past six months it really started coming to fruition and then it was just a matter of, 'Alright, how are we going to do this? How is it going to look?'"
The agreement is $100,000 annually for Cornbelt, but Koller assured that's at no additional cost to the community.
"It's funded through our normal budget," Koller said. "We're able to do this about $100,000 a year. That doesn't account for the cost savings we're going to have in fuel, insurance, equipment that Arrow is going to provide for us. We're very fortunate."
The agreement comes with three full-time EMTs (Austin Gray, Dustin Haake and Hayden Painter), hired by Cornbelt, and three full-time paramedics (Paul Cundiff, Chris Humer and Matt Myers), provided by Carle Arrow Ambulance.
With the increased staff and an ambulance on site, both Koller and Zindars hope to shave off 10 to 15 minutes per medical call and get people to the hospital that much quicker.
The second the ambulance responds to a call, Koller assured another vehicle will take its place "backfilling" readiness for the next emergency.
"We've never been able to do that before," Koller said. "That's a huge, huge thing for our community, our businesses, people that visit here."
That's not the only additional service. Mahomet-Seymour football fans will see Medic 2277 under Friday night lights this fall and even at other special community events.
"It takes the safety of our community to an entirely different level," Koller said. "This just takes it 10 levels above where we were at."
The year-in-the-making, fire-based EMS agreement is the first of its kind in Champaign County, but Koller hopes Cornbelt and Carle Arrow Ambulance's lead sparks a trend.
"I hope we see it all over the county to be honest," he said. "I think it's something that a lot of communities can benefit from."