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Grant is a relief for emergency responders

Ashland Fire and Rescue will soon install a machine into three ambulances that will load patients and gurneys without risking the backs of firefighters and paramedics.

An Assistance to Firefighters Grant through FEMA will cover $142,795 of the $157,074 cost of the machines and installation. The city is required to pay 10%, which amounts to $14,279, as approved by Ashland City Council Tuesday.

After an impressive balancing act this year from the fire department, which included the resignation of former chief Mike D’Orazi so three firefighters could keep their jobs, as well as severe budget cuts, the grant is helpful.

Ashland Fire Chief David Shepherd said the machine, the Stryker Power-LOAD system, will substantially decrease the risk of serious back injuries for firefighters.

He said manually lifting a patient into and out of an ambulance causes many back injuries. The new device will load people in and out of the vehicles with a touch of a button.

“Back injuries are one of the most prevalent threats to our firefighter’s health,” Shepherd said. “Not only do these injuries shorten the careers of many of our first responders, it can place a huge financial burden on the department’s budget. A study from 2016 showed that the department incurred more than $87,000 in medical and time-off expenses due to back injuries.”

Shepherd said Ashland firefighters transport more than 2,000 patients a year, and each transport requires the patient and gurney to be lifted at least three times. With this machine they’ll be able to eliminate about 6,000 heavy lifts a year.

The cost of the equipment includes the cots that fit the system.

Shepherd said the technology is so new that there is not a guaranteed life expectancy for the equipment yet. He said the department will make repairs when necessary to prolong the life of the equipment, and will use discretion on whether to continue using them if the cost of maintenance becomes significant.

“We will utilize this equipment as long as it will last and make minor repairs,” Shepherd said. “If we have to replace anything, it will be with future grant money.”

The city has five ambulances. The other two ambulances will continue to use the manual cots until more funding is available.

The Stryker equipment is used by other ambulance services in the Rogue Valley, including Mercy Flights, according to the staff report.

The city’s matching funds will come from the ambulance service materials budget.

Contact Ashland Tidings freelancer Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

An engine truck from the Ashland Fire Department Station #1 leaves on a medical call to assist the ambulance. Muuqi Maxwell/Daily Tidings