I have often wondered why a fire truck is always dispatched with an ambulance following a 9-1-1 call.

I have often wondered why a fire truck is always dispatched with an ambulance following a 9-1-1 call.

— Hank, H. via e-mail

Your observation of fire trucks and ambulances responding together to emergency medical calls is correct, Hank, but it isn't an "always" scenario.

Medford Fire and Rescue, for example, doesn't go with Mercy Flights to low-priority medical calls because firefighters would be duplicating paramedics' services, said Fire Chief Dave Bierwiler. The department in 2006 stopped responding to minor medical situations, such as broken limbs, because the growth of emergency medical calls outpaced the addition of fire personnel.

City firefighters, however, still respond to heart attacks and other critical situations because 88 percent of the time, they can arrive before Mercy Flights, Bierwiler said. All Medford firefighters are trained as "basic" emergency medical technicians, 24 are certified as "intermediate" and 24 more are full-fledged paramedics, the chief added. Engines carry all the necessary equipment and medications.

"We're bringing the emergency room to the patient," Bierwiler said.

While Medford has never operated ambulances, several other Jackson County fire agencies do and typically send those vehicles in lieu of an engine to medical emergencies. Ashland Fire and Rescue and Rogue River Rural Fire District even hold contracts to transport patients to local hospitals because Mercy Flights doesn't respond to those areas, said Margie Puckett, director of Southern Oregon Regional Communications, which dispatches for many of the county's emergency responders.

Like Medford, the county's larger fire agencies staff their stations with EMTs and paramedics. And in the case of vehicle crashes, they typically send both an ambulance, which carries medical equipment, and an engine, which carries tools for freeing vehicle occupants from the wreckage.