In order to beef up its presence in its busiest service area, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 will no longer dispatch an ambulance to every medical or fire emergency.

In order to beef up its presence in its busiest service area, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 will no longer dispatch an ambulance to every medical or fire emergency.

District 3's goal is to keep its fire engines fully staffed at all times, something that could not happen when crews were split up for medical calls involving an ambulance.

In the past, firefighters were used to drive and staff an ambulance during a call. This left some engines in Central Point, the district's busiest area, without enough firefighters to respond to a blaze should one break out during a medical call.

Now, all calls will be met with a fire engine, including medical calls, District 3 Chief Dan Petersen said.

"Our engines are equipped to handle every type of call we receive," Petersen said. "They only thing they can't do is transport someone to the hospital."

The changes will not have a large impact on medical calls, Petersen said, because Mercy Flights transports the vast majority of patients to hospitals each year.

"We only transport around 15 people to a hospital with one of our ambulances each year," Petersen said.

The agency has historically kept three fully staffed engines to cover the district. By eliminating the ambulance service, this will allow for four staffed engines to protect the area.

Two of the engines will be based in Central Point, which saw 2,331 calls for service last year. Central Point sees significantly more calls than the second-busiest area, White City, which had 1,633 calls in 2010.

"Around 47 percent of all our calls are in the Central Point area," Petersen said. "It makes sense to keep that area covered with fully staffed engines."

Petersen said he believes having two engines available at all times in Central Point will improve response times to fires. The city sees between 15 and 20 structure fires each year.

The chief said district residents in need of medical services will receive the same care even without ambulances.

District 3 Captain Mike Hussey pointed out that today's fire engines basically are mobile medical centers that can put out fires.

While giving a tour of an engine, Hussey popped open a side door on an engine to reveal a compartment teaming with medical equipment.

"We have pretty much anything you'd need on a medical call," Hussey said. "We can provide the same level of care as our ambulances."

District 3's engines contain heart monitors, oxygen, drugs, splints for broken bones, defibrillators, back braces, a pediatrics kit for children and numerous other items used by paramedics to treat a patient.

One concern was there might be a slight delay in transport time if a fire crew arrives on a scene before Mercy Flights.

District 3 board member Colin Fagan, who was a paramedic for 28 years, was critical of the plan at first.

"My first reaction was I didn't like it," Fagan said. "But after taking an extensive look at the plan and seeing that it will keep us from being so fragmented, I feel like this makes better sense for the district."

Petersen said Mercy Flights can have an ambulance at the farthest rural area in the district within 15 minutes.

"If we have a firefighter hurt on a fire within the first 15 minutes after arriving, then we will treat him on the scene with the resources in one of our engines until Mercy Flights arrives," Petersen said.

To be sure, District 3 will keep its ambulances in working order at each station in case of a large-scale disaster such as a plane crash or massive fire within a city.

"We will be utilized as a back-up ambulance service when necessary," Petersen said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.