South Lane County Fire and Rescue (SLCFR) is set to do a trial run with single-role EMS (Emergency Medical Services) staff as it considers adapting its model of emergency response.
Currently, SLCFR’s entire staff is cross-trained in both fire and EMS response, but around 90 percent of the agency’s call volume is for EMS reasons, said SLCFR Division Chief Joe Raade.
“We’re trying to be able to expand our services but still stay financially responsible,” he said. “That’s why we’re not immediately hiring more firefighter paramedics. And we see that we can really augment our current system and improve both fire response and EMS response by having these single-role employees.”
The agency is also not currently financially equipped to add more cross- or dual-trained employees, but it still needs to address an EMS caseload that continues to grow.
To get ahead of the problem, SLCFR is looking to hire two single-role EMS employees during peak hours. The trial run is planned to start in March, run through July, and will inform the agency on possible budgeting for such hires in the next fiscal year.
Whatever the decision, single-role EMS staff are due to become a permanent fixture at SLCFR.
“And that will do two things,” explained Raade. “It will free up our dual-trained people to be available for fire response, but also free up our crews so they can do training. They can go out and do fire prevention surveys and inspections in the community with our businesses and our public buildings and schools — all those things which make our crews more knowledgeable and better firefighters, but also allows our community to become safer.”
Demand for medical calls has prevented crews from getting around to doing as much of these activities as they would like, he said. In effect, hiring these specialized staff will help expand agency services in its district.
Raade couldn’t say how many single-role EMS staff might be joining the crew after July, but, “I know immediately, we easily could do with a total of six,” he said, “but we don’t have that right now in the budget.”
Though COVID-19 is a piece of the puzzle, the trend of increased EMS calls began before the pandemic hit the United States, said Raade.
“Coronavirus is a small piece of this. And really, with Omicron, we started seeing a spike. We didn’t see that with the Delta or the original virus, though,” he said. “But the big drive here is that the baby boomer generation is now of that age, where we are seeing them utilizing EMS more than before.”
The baby boomer generation is often defined as people born between 1946 and 1964.
“They’re having those medical problems as they age in life: more diabetes, more cardiac issues, more stroke issues,” said Raade. “And we’re not the only ones that are noticing this.”
Raade pointed to other districts in places such as Eugene, Klamath County, Lebanon and Mid-Columbia as successfully adopting the same single-role EMS model.
For SLCFR, the ambulance and fire districts are not the same size, either, the ambulance district being far more expansive than the fire.
SLCFR’s ambulance service area is 800 square miles, the same size as Jacksonville, Florida, the largest (by area) city in the United States.
Westward, it extends far past Lorane, just shy of the Veterans Legacy Camp, then Mount June to the east, running up against the Oakridge ambulance district. To the south, it meets the Douglas County line and extends deeply southeast along London Road and Big River.
The fire district, by comparison is 132 square miles. It extends about eight miles west of Cottage Grove, around Dorena Dam to the east, and the Douglas County border to the south.
Both districts end at the same place to the north around the Short Mountain Landfill.
Ambulance calls far into the countryside are “few and far between,” though, said Raade, placing those around three or four times a year. However, such calls can tie up an emergency responder for some time, another burden the hiring of single-role staff may alleviate.