With some staff dedicated to medical calls, others remain available for fire calls
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
Ashland Fire & Rescue has new resources and a new vision for the future.
In July, three new first responders were hired for the department, but unlike the hires of the past they are not necessarily firefighters but “single-role” staff — they are focused on wrangling medical calls. The department has been struggling for years with more calls than resources.
“When someone’s calling 911 and we have nobody to send to them, it’s horrid,” said AFR Chief Ralph Sartain.
Over the past decade overlapping calls — where no staff were available to respond — escalated in frequency from one call every 17 days to every 1.3 days, he said. The department responds to fire calls in a 6.9 mile radius, give or take mutual aid agreements. But it can respond to medical calls within a 650-square-mile area stretching from Ashland to the edge of Phoenix to the border with California, and from Klamath Falls to the Applegate, Sartain said.
The new staff hired this summer have stepped in to bridge the gap. They staff the ambulances and keep medical needs from drawing too many resources.
“We keep our firefighting force in place, and use our EMS and we still have our firefighting force available if we have another medical call,” he said.
A fourth single-roll staff member has been hired and is now completing fire academy. Sartain is proud of his experienced new staff.
Lauren Fischer came to the department after earning her paramedic degree from Rogue Community College and her firefighter 1 certification from Rogue Interagency Training Association. She then worked for American Medical Response and Rural Metro in Grants Pass, all while volunteering for Applegate Valley Fire District No. 9 since 2019, according to information on the city of Ashland’s website.
Standing beside a red AFR ambulance inside Fire Station No. 1 Wednesday, Fischer grinned to say she was still a volunteer with the Applegate Fire Department even in her new role with AFR. But before she could speak to how she feels about her new job, a call came in and — still smiling — she bounced into the ambulance and was gone.
Tom Cermak started his first responder career in 2013 with the Rogue River Fire District, then worked with Grants Pass Fire & Rescue, American Medical Response in Josephine County and with Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. His total experience as a paramedic stretches to about a decade, he said.
Sartain envisions the department’s new single-role EMS staff as more than a mechanism to keep resources more flexible, but as an avenue to keep attracting the best and the brightest.
“My vision for the fire department is, this becomes a destination fire department, where we get people coming here because they have all avenues that they can go through. If they only want to stay EMS — there’s nothing wrong with that — if they want to be in wildfire prevention, if they want to be in the fire marshal’s office, if they want to fight fire, administration, training,” he said.
By offering multiple career avenues, more experienced and capable first responders will want to work in Ashland, he said. Many of those hired for single-role positions may someday transition to dual-role positions fighting fire and responding to medical calls. Asked about his plans for the future, Cermak was eager to fight fire eventually, but overall optimistic and open-minded.
“So far it’s been a great environment, very supportive management staff, every person I’ve worked with has been an absolute joy, everyone seems to have a great cohesiveness and ability to work together. … I’m just coming here and seeing where it takes me,” he said.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.