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Oregon fire officials sign contract with private ambulance firm

Oregon's new ambulance service had been in business only about 20 minutes Tuesday morning when its first call came in.

The crew from ATS Medical Services, Loves Park, responded along with Oregon firefighters around 8:20 a.m. to a small, quickly extinguished fire at Oregon Rehabilitation and Healthcare.

A few minutes earlier Oregon Fire Chief Don Heller announced that ATS and fire protection district officials have signed a 10-month contract for ambulance service in the fire protection district.

"We entered into a short-term 10-month contract for ambulance service until our referendum," Heller said. 

The move came just two weeks after the Oregon Ambulance Service, a not-for-profit corporation, closed its doors June 17 for financial reasons, leaving Oregon area residents without an ambulance service.

Calls have been handled in the meantime by neighboring fire departments' ambulance services.

"We are taxing out our neighboring ambulance services," Heller said. "We're running them to death."

The ATS ambulance and a full-time crew will be based at the Oregon Fire Station and answer calls from there.

"When a medical call comes in and they [Ogle County 911 telecommicators] tone out Oregon Fire, we will respond," said Andy Schultz, ATS CEO and owner.

The Oregon Fire Protection District is one of very few fire districts without a tax-supported ambulance service.

Heller said fire district officials will place a referendum to tax for an ambulance service on the ballot either in November of this year or next April.

"We hope that everyone supports us and votes yes for an ambulance service," he said. "Otherwise we will have no ambulance."

State law does not allow the fire district to provide ambulance services using tax dollars levied for fire protection.

ATS will bill anyone who is transported in its ambulance, Schultz said.

Since Medicare and Medicaid pay a limited amount for qualified patients, the fire district will cover any shortfall.

Heller said that amount will vary from month to month.

He said the fire district's attorney advised the board that the fire district can pick up that cost due to the circumstances.

"We are able to do it for the short term due to the emergency," Heller said. "Ethically and morally we need to provide the service."

He said the district hired ATS with the help of former Oregon resident Brad Bull, who is a part owner of the ambulance service.

"I think we did well to get this done in 14 days," Heller said.

The Oregon Ambulance Service closed down with little warning.

Betty Ferris, who co-managed the service with her husband Jim, told the fire board June 11 about the plans to close.

The fire district, which is 120 square miles and bordered by 10 other fire districts, includes all of Oregon-Nashua Township and portions of Pine Creek, Pine Rock, White Rock, Rockvale, Marion, Grand Detour, and Taylor Townships.

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