Franklin Fire District 3 has had seven medical calls since its volunteers started providing basic ambulance service Feb. 1.
But those calls are giving the district's trained emergency medical technicians a chance to flex their medical muscles, Chief Les Litzenberger said.
"They'll be much more comfortable with their skills the more they use them -- and the better they'll be," he told the Herald.
The district's ambulance contract with Pasco expired Jan. 31, and the district opted to start providing its own ambulance service instead of signing a new contract with Pasco that district officials said they couldn't afford after an EMS levy failed in November.
Once the decision was made in mid-January for the district to strike out on its own, officials hustled to acquire ambulances -- one bought from Franklin Fire District 2 and one borrowed from Walla Walla Fire District 5 in Burbank.
"We have gone into the basic life support business," Litzenberger said.
The district's EMTs already were responding to medical calls in the area when Pasco was providing ambulance service. District 3 volunteers would show up in fire trucks while Pasco's personnel took care of the medical emergency.
But now they're getting a chance to use their basic life support training, which requires them to log hours in the field and complete ongoing education to maintain their certifications.
"Basic life support" means EMTs can do things like give someone CPR, use an automatic external defibrillator, give a diabetic person glucagon when they're having low blood sugar or give someone with chest pains a dose of baby aspirin.
They can't perform procedures or give drugs, Litzenberger said.
The district is using private company American Medical Response for calls that require advanced life support. Advanced life support is provided by paramedics, who can do things like intubate a patient, hook someone up to an IV or administer medications in a serious emergency, he said.
District 3 still is talking with Pasco about providing advanced life support. City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the city offered the district the same contract provisions it has in place with Walla Walla District 5 that would have the Franklin district providing the first response to a call and determining if a paramedic is needed, then calling in Pasco.
Litzenberger said the fire district rejected that offer, but remains open to negotiations.
Under the system in place since Feb. 1, American Medical Response bills patients when they respond to a call, and the district adopted a fee schedule to bill for basic life support calls that Litzenberger said is in line with similar fire districts.
For basic life support with transportation to a hospital, district residents pay $650 plus $11 per mile. Non-residents will be charged $750 plus mileage.
But that won't be enough to cover the cost of having ambulances ready to roll 24 hours a day, seven days a week beyond 2013, Litzenberger said.
The district is considering putting another EMS levy on the ballot, but is soliciting feedback from residents about what level of ambulance service they want and how they're willing to pay for it.
Residents can provide feedback by calling the district at 547-9306 or attending a citizens advisory committee meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Columbia Grange Hall at Road 64 and Court Street.