ASHLAND — Emergency officials are encouraging residents to invest in an ambulance ride program that they say saves both lives and money.

ASHLAND — Emergency officials are encouraging residents to invest in an ambulance ride program that they say saves both lives and money.

Under the Ashland FireMed ambulance program, residents pay a yearly base fee and have their regular ambulance fee waived should an accident requiring transportation occur.

Residents pay a $52 yearly membership to Ashland Fire & Rescue to enroll in the program — a drastic savings from the financial impact of ambulance fees, which can exceed $1,000.

"It really has been a beneficial program for people over the years," said Greg Case with Ashland Fire & Rescue. "I know that for some people, if they had to pay the bill for their ambulance ride, they wouldn't have been able to afford their hospital stay. But with FireMed they were covered."

FireMed's first option is to pursue payment for the ride through any insurance the injured person may have. But it is also available for individuals without medical coverage.

"It's specifically for those with low incomes," Case said. "If you don't have insurance, this basically functions as really cheap insurance."

Ashland Fire & Rescue established the FireMed ambulance ride in 1998, to combat high fees and improve individual access to medical resources. More than 1,200 families in Ashland and Talent have joined over that time.

FireMed has expanded throughout the state over the decade, now covering much of the Interstate 5 corridor and into Eastern Oregon. More than 80 ambulance providers statewide recognize FireMed.

Fees for the program aid Fire & Rescue officials by paying for service training classes in the department, and purchasing up-to-date medical equipment.

People from all income brackets can sign on. With a single yearly payment of $52, a member's entire family receives FireMed coverage.

"The fee is per household," Case said. "That means if you're a family, it covers the husband, it covers the wife and kids."

Though he says the program has been successful, Case stressed it is only for use in severe, potentially life-threatening situations.

"It doesn't cover going to your doctor's appointment."

But he added that, for what amounts to $1 a week, it can help families avoid a very large expense.

Ashland residents interested in joining the program can call the city of Ashland FireMed hotline, 488-6009.

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at eglucklich@gmail.com.