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Last call for one of Arlington Hts.'s first paramedics
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald correspondent

Firefighter/Paramedic Bill Dressel gets a hug from his niece, Vickie Bielik, at his retirement party Wednesday.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Dr. Stanley Zydlo, left, came to congratulate Dressel on his retirement after 40 years with the Arlington Heights Fire Department.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

From left, firefighter Eric Koch, retired firefighter/paramedic Bill Ahlman (who partnered with Dressel) share a laugh with him at Arlington Heights Fire Station Number 2.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Arlington Heights Fire Chief Glenn Ericksen, right, jokes about Bill Dressel's healthy cooking.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Friends and co-workers of Bill Dressel rise in applause at the party honoring his 40 years of service.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/14/2010 12:06 AM | Updated: 5/19/2010 12:30 PM

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After more than 40 years of responding to ambulance calls and fighting fires, Arlington Heights firefighter/paramedic Bill Dressel awoke on Thursday to a life without shifts.

He retired on Wednesday after nearly 41 years with the village of Arlington Heights, making him the longest serving firefighter and paramedic member in the fire department and the last of the original paramedic class, trained at Northwest Community Hospital, to retire.

His co-workers from the department as well as Arlington Heights officials wished him well at a cake and coffee reception at Station No. 2.

"He's been a real leader in the department, especially to the new paramedics coming on," said Dep. Chief Bernie Lyons. "He's been a calm and guiding force, with a great wealth of experience."

Dressel conceded his departure was bittersweet.

"It's been such a rewarding job, I can't even begin to tell you," said Dressel, 65, who lives in Roselle.

He adds he would still be on the job if it weren't for a state recommendation that firefighters retire at age 65, which Arlington Heights adopted into an ordinance.

He may be sidelined from active duty but he plans to continue teaching CPR and first aid techniques to local schools, churches, doctors' and dentists' offices, and possibly volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Dressel was among the first group of suburban firefighters to be trained in advanced life support under a new Emergency Medicine System started at Northwest Community Hospital in 1972 by emergency room physician Dr. Stanley Zydlo.

Dressel figures there were around 50 firefighters in that first class - from several villages - that developed into the multi-response system that now includes more than 6,000 paramedics and 19 communities.

Of the original class, Dressel is the last to retire.

"We already were certified as emergency medicine technicians," Dressel says, "but this took us to the next level."

Having had worked on the job for three years before Dressel started the training, he knew of its need.

"Being on an ambulance and not knowing advanced life support, we lost a lot of people," Dressel says. "I wanted to be able to help individuals the best I could."

The first call he and his partner responded to, fresh out of training, was to a heart attack victim. Right from the start, he realized they needed more than two sets of hands to deliver the best care.

"I knew we needed more manpower," Dressel says, "so we started initiating squad trucks responding along with the ambulance, with three or four people."

The expanded response team led to many satisfying outcomes, but one stands out for Dressel, a 42-year-old man who had suffered a potential heart attack.

"When we arrived, he was in full cardiac arrest," Dressel says. "It was touch and go, trying to keep his heart going, but we managed to establish a pulse and get him to the hospital."

As they left, the victim's 7-year old son turned to Dressel and made a heart wrenching request: "Please save my Daddy."

Dressel didn't learn until the next day that the man had been revived, and within three months his victim stopped by the fire station to thank him.

"There were others, but that one really sticks out," Dressel said. "You don't get many that come back to thank you."