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Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue encourages voters to approve EMS levy to address response times as emergency calls increase

Fire Chief John Nohr said the lack of resources and long response times are further aggravated by how long it can take for private ambulances to arrive.

CLARK COUNTY, Wash. — Washington voters living in the Clark-County Fire Rescue (CCFR) response area will soon get a say on a proposed Emergency Medical Services levy. Revenue from the proposed levy would allow CCFR to hire more EMS personnel and staff an ambulance of its own, allowing the agency to better respond to what they say is a drastic increase in emergency calls over the last couple of years. 

Fire Chief John Nohr explained that his agency's response area is 125 square miles and serves 45,000 people. Although much of the district is on the rural side, the population is growing, and the call volume is rising to meet it. 

"We had 3,100 emergency incidents in 2016. We had 5,000 last year. That's a 57% increase, and we saw a 17.6% increase in just 2020 to 2021," Nohr said, explaining that the fire department normally takes into account a 5-7% call increase year over year. 

These increases, paired with current resources, have led to a lag in CCFR response times. Nohr said that he's able to staff engines with two people, when three is standard protocol. Plus, he said, a trained paramedic is aboard an engine only half the time. 

"When we have a critical call, we'll have to call in one of our other units that may have a paramedic on to come over to assist," Nohr said. "At that point, we are now on the scene waiting for an ambulance."

Nohr claimed their response time problem is further aggravated by long delays from the private ambulance provider for the area, American Medical Response, or AMR.

"We can stabilize a patient, but if we don't have an ambulance to take them to the hospital in a timely matter then we're missing out on that quick time for the treatment that they need in the emergency room," he said. "The number of times that AMR is over 20 minutes in their responses continues to increase. It's up about 109% over two years."

"We just learned [Thursday night] that there was a call ... where a gentleman was having a heart attack," said Fire Commissioner Stan Chunn. "There was an incident where it took 50 minutes that they were waiting for a response time from the private ambulance company."

Stories and statistics like this compelled Chunn and the other fire commissioners to plan the EMS levy now appearing on the August primary election ballot.

A spokesperson for American Medical Response issued this statement to KGW: 

"American Medical Response (AMR) Clark County has complied with the response times designated in our contract since its start in January 2015. We have seen an increase in call volume but have added additional resources to maintain compliance with our contract requirements."

If approved by voters, it would cost the average homeowner $21 a month, and the revenue from that would address some of these shortcomings. CCFR could hire 25 more emergency response workers and staff its own ambulance to transport critical patients if another ambulance cannot make it to a scene in time.

"This levy will allow us to provide safety in our community for years to come," said Nohr.

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