CHESAPEAKE -- The obesity epidemic across the country has brought more challenges for emergency workers, as the average patient weighs more.

Chesapeake is responding by being the first city in the state to put an electric stretcher that lifts up to 700 pounds on all its ambulances.

'A much heavier person can require six people to lift,' Chesapeake Fire Captain Scott Saunders explained.

The electric 'stryker' stretcher is hands-free, so medics can focus on the giving care to the patient.

'It's safer for the patient and provider,' Carmie Elmore of Stryker Medical remarked. 'The obesity epidemic exacerbates the problem. Most of your patients now are well north of 250. That's a lot of pounds you're lifting day in and day out.'

For the past ten years, firefighter Alan Perry has been lifting an average of 15 patients into ambulances each day. Thanks to the new stretchers, he won't have to risk hurting his back anymore.

'I'm very relieved. This is a big help,' Perry said.

It cost about $685,000 to install the devices on all of the city's 18 ambulances. A FEMA grant paid for 80 percent of the bill and city funds covered the rest.

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