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Ashland fire department is overworked

Ashland fire chief says too many calls, not enough staff
Rescue personnel from Ashland Fire & Rescue and Jackson County Fire District No. 5 practice extrication. [Mail Tribune/ file photo]

Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief Ralph Sartain stood before Ashland City Council Tuesday and painted a picture of a fire department under fire.

Ashland Fire & Rescue staff are often in the position of responding to overlapping calls — medical and fire calls coming in at the same time, Sartain said.

Ashland Fire & Rescue is the ambulance and fire service for the city of Ashland, responding to both medical and fire calls in the area. In addition, it assists Mercy Flights in medical emergencies throughout the valley and responds to Jackson County emergency rescue calls, Sartain said.

He said the calls for service have grown faster than the department’s staff.

In 1995, Ashland had 21 firefighters, and they responded to 1,011 calls for service, Sartain said.

In 2021, the department had 30 firefighters but responded to 4,785 calls, 2,079 of which were overlapping calls.

Because Ashland’s dual-trained firefighters and paramedics see patients from point of contact to check-in at the hospital, firefighters often are stuck trying to balance two vital calls at once, he said.

“Our farthest recent call was from Ashland to Eagle Point for a cardiac arrest,” Sartain said.

The upward trend is continuing, Sartain said. As of Monday, the department was already at 2,960 calls, with 1,655 overlapping so far this year.

“Which means we have one or no resources left in the community for an additional call,” he said.

Seventy-one percent of these calls are medical, he said, while fire calls make up 8% of all calls. Ashland firefighters work 48/96 schedules — two days on and four days off, unless they’re called in for overtime.

In response to red flag fire danger days and the high number of medical calls, staff are working more overtime and, Sartain warned, their sleep patterns are disrupted to a worrying degree.

He said the department needs to increase its minimum staff requirement from eight firefighters on shift to 10, and to hire more staff, a move Sartain has asked for in the past.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.