Imagine driving along Highway 397 and your car hits some ice, the tires lose traction, and you spin off the road.
Someone is hurt and needs an ambulance. Maybe it’s a loved one, maybe it’s you, but someone picks up the phone and dials 911.
Seconds turn into minutes, and the minutes start to stack up. Police arrive. Firefighters arrive. An ambulance, however, may still be minutes away.
For hundreds of people every year who have a medical emergency inside the borders of Benton County Fire District 1, fire district officials want to change that.
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And they’d like to talk to you about it.
“We do a good job of providing emergency medical service on site to those who need it, but 90 percent of patients require transportation to area hospitals,” fire Chief Lonnie Click said. “We don’t own ambulances, and that can delay care.”
Officials are reaching out to the 17,800 people living in the 320-square-mile area before proposing an emergency medical service levy. They are looking for community groups that want presentations or community members with questions.
While district commissioners haven’t agreed to send the proposal to voters, plans call for a 50 cent per $1,000 assessed value measure on one of the four 2018 ballots.
The increase would mean people with a $200,000 home would pay $100 a year in property tax.
The levy would increase the district’s revenue by about $850,000 a year, allowing it to hire seven people to help crew two new ambulances. It would be the first ambulance service in the district.
Improving response times for medical emergencies means patients will be treated sooner and arrive faster to the hospital for follow-up care.
Lonnie Click, fire chief
The goal of adding the new ambulances is straightforward but critical: shorten how long it takes to get people to the hospital.
In a June report, Click said the average response times range from 7 1/2 minutes in east Kennewick to 16 minutes in south Finley.
“Improving response times for medical emergencies means patients will be treated sooner and arrive faster to the hospital for follow-up care,” Click said in June. “In some areas of the fire district, it takes too long for an ambulance to arrive.”
Having an ambulance service would cut response times across the district, from a minute to as high as 14 in some areas.
Part of the need is spurred by an increasing population. Along with Finley, the district is responsible for Rancho Reata, Badger Canyon and south Kennewick.
The number of calls spiked by 16 percent this year — about 100 more calls — after years of steadily rising. Just over half of those required medical attention, said Click and Lt. Tracy Baker, the district’s public information officer.
The ambulances responding to those calls mostly come from Kennewick and Richland, though neighboring fire districts along with the Pasco Fire Department help carry some of the burden. But those support runs outside their regular boundaries tax the ability of ambulances to respond within their cities.
“We’re running about 25 calls a day,” said Eric Nilson, Kennewick Fire’s Emergency Medical Services officer. “We’re going to be really close to 9,500 calls this year.”