Oregon considers adding ambulance service

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 1:21 a.m. CDT

Recent delayed responses to ambulance calls have prompted Oregon Fire Protection District officials to look into developing a publicly funded ambulance service through the fire department.

“We’re just in the preliminary stages,” said Brian Stuart, secretary of the fire board. “We have a moral and ethical obligation. We’re going to take care of our citizens and visitors the best we can.”

Fire Chief Don Heller said that in 2013, the fire department was called numerous times to respond when the Oregon Ambulance Service had no ambulance available or needed additional manpower.

Several firefighters are already first responders or emergency medical technicians.

“Last year we did 91 of those,” Heller said. “Mt. Morris has come 50 times, and Byron has come several times, too.”

Stuart, himself a full-time Lombard firefighter, said Oregon is the only area fire department that does not have an ambulance service.

The Oregon area is served by Oregon Ambulance Service, a privately owned ambulance service with a paid staff.

“We’re the only ones not doing it,” Stuart said. “And it’s becoming a bigger issue.”

The situation became serious enough, Heller said, that Ogle County 911 operators asked for a procedural change that would get medical help on the scene faster.

911 Coordinator Sandra Beitel said several area fire departments, which, like Oregon’s, are manned by volunteers in most cases, have difficulty getting a crew for their ambulances during the day when most of them are at work.

“This is county-wide, not just for Oregon,” she said. “If we get a call and get no response [from the ambulance service] in 5 minutes, we do a second tone-out and automatically send first responders.”

The new procedure is for back-up calls only, she said, where the ambulance service has two ambulances and one is already out on a call.

Stuart said the ambulance response time is especially crucial in a rural area like Oregon where the nearest hospital is a half-hour away.

“The wait for the ambulance plus the transport time can make a big difference for the patient,” he said.

Betty Ferris, who with her husband Jim, manages the Oregon Ambulance Service, said Monday that the service, which has two ambulances, has experienced no delays in response time.

“We are staffed 24 hours a day, and we have no problems,” she said.

The number of people on the ambulance service fluctuates, she said, but noted that’s not uncommon.

“It’s everywhere; not just in Oregon,” she said.

Currently, Ferris said, the 15 people on the staff include paramedics and EMTs of other levels.

Heller, however, said the Oregon Ambulance Service has been unavailable on several occasions, including New Year’s Day, when it did not run at all.

“We’re trying to figure out what we can do,” he said. “We’re not trying to put the Oregon Ambulance Service out of business.”

Stuart said funding an ambulance service is one of the issues the fire board will face if it decides to go ahead.

“A referendum is the best way. We can do it without one, but we can’t impact fire services,” he said.

Heller said the cost to taxpayers would be approximately 40 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. 

“We get 30 cents now for the fire department, and it would need to a little more than double to add the ambulance,” he said.

That translates into an extra $200 per year in real estate taxes on a $150,000 home excluding exemptions.

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