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AFR seeks rescue fees

Mountain bikers who crash in the Ashland watershed and other people who need medical rescue in remote areas may face added fees for the strain they put on Ashland Fire & Rescue.

On Tuesday night, the Ashland City Council authorized Ashland Fire & Rescue to recover costs for medical rescues in remote areas that include the watershed, the Colestin Valley on the far side of Mount Ashland, and the Greensprings area east of town along Highway 66.

The charges are on top of ambulance bills and may not be covered by all insurance plans.

People who live inside Ashland would not have to pay the added rescue fees because they are already financially supporting the Fire Department, Fire Chief John Karns said.

Ashland residents or their medical insurers do need to pay their ambulance bills, he said.

Karns said two Ashland paramedics go out on ambulance calls in remote areas, but they often need the help of two or more firefighters if, for example, an injured mountain biker has to be carried out on a stretcher along a steep, narrow trail.

If sending personnel out on a remote rescue causes staffing levels to dip below four people back in Ashland, the Fire Department will call in off-duty personnel, who must be paid at overtime rates, Karns said.

The person who required a rescue in the remote area will be billed for the overtime pay of the personnel called in to work, he said.

Counting pay and benefits, that works out to about $50 per hour, per person, Karn said.

A remote rescue typically lasts about three hours, he said.

If two off-duty people had to be called in for three hours, the rescued person would face a bill of about $300.

That would be separate from the ambulance bill.

Last summer, Ashland Fire & Rescue responded to about a half-dozen mountain biking crashes in the Ashland watershed, Karns said.

"Recreational use in the watershed is growing quickly, and we want to get ahead of this," Karns said in an interview Tuesday. "Bicycle accidents really tax us. The watershed is becoming a destination point for mountain bikers."

Karns said he expects the Fire Department to respond to even more mountain biking accidents in the future.

When mountain bikers crash, they often don't know exactly where they are, which makes finding and rescuing them even more difficult and time-consuming, he said.

Karns said there is some risk that an injured person would hesitate to call for help because of the new rescue fees.

But he said that risk already exists on medical calls because some people are reluctant to incur ambulance bills.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.