West Richland's EMS levy will save money, lives

By the Herald editorial staff

In an emergency, one thought overshadows all others -- survival.

The minutes between when an ambulance is called and when it arrives can seem like ages.

Depending on where you live in West Richland, it could take up to 15 minutes for help to arrive. Those extra minutes are meaningful.

According to the American Heart Association, without oxygen, brain death occurs in four to six minutes, and for every minute that passes during cardiac arrest, the odds of survival decrease by 10 percent.

If the voters in Benton County Fire District No. 4 approve the emergency medical service levy, 90 percent of the district's residents will live within five minutes of an ambulance.

The difference in response time is just 10 minutes. Ten very critical minutes.

Most levies seek to improve the quality of life in a community. If approved, this levy will actually extend life for some West Richland residents.

There is also a second benefit to consider.

Once the crisis has passed, and you're back home recuperating, no doubt friends will drop a get-well card in the mail for you.

Unfortunately, the responding agency will also be sending a note to you -- but instead of a card, it's a bill.

West Richland citizens who need an ambulance receive that service from either the Richland Fire Department or Benton County Fire District No. 2 -- for a fee. They should be prepared to pay about $1,100, plus mileage.

That changes if the levy is approved. Ambulance service will be free, or at least at no additional cost over the levy assessment.

Typically when a levy fails, it's because of the cost. In this case, the cost is a huge factor in the benefits column.

The levy will run about $7 per month for $150,000 of assessed property value, or 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

That's pretty cheap, considering it might save your life and for less money. Certainly, the levy rate is much cheaper than one ride in a neighboring jurisdiction's ambulance.

The levy will raise about $500,000 a year to buy ambulances and provide facilities and staff for the trucks.

Residents already are paying roughly the equivalent of that amount. However, instead of spreading the cost out over the whole population, it is being shouldered entirely by those using the service.

Last year, there were 600 emergency calls in West Richland, about 400 of which ended up with someone transported by a neighboring community's ambulance.

Would residents prefer to take out a small insurance policy in the form of a levy than bet against a much more expensive gamble that they won't need an ambulance?

Fire Chief Mike Spring said emergency response is something members of the community have told him they want. He's interested to see if the election reflects that desire.

Ballots for the mail-in election are being sent out today and must be postmarked by April 27.

West Richland averages more than one ambulance call a day. It's time the city has its own service.

The Herald editorial board recommends voters approve Fire District No. 4's emergency medical services levy.