MADRAS, OR -- Jefferson County voters will soon decide whether to combine fire and EMS services. Last year, county officials hired an outside firm to investigate the pros and cons of combining the agencies. Fire Chief Brian Huff says their newly released report shows it would make sense, logistically, and result in improved response times. "The company, Matrix Group out of Texas, came to the conclusion that it is best to merge, at a higher tax rate." He says higher taxes would be needed to pay for expanded coverage.
In Jefferson County, fire services have historically been run by the county, while medics and ambulances are managed by a not-for-profit company. Huff says combining them would mean big changes. Currently, most Jefferson County firefighters are volunteers and do not provide full-time coverage at a fire station. If fire and medics combine forces, Huff says firefighters would need to come on staff, "Not only would there be 24-hour fire apparatus staffing, but it also enhances the ability of the EMS district to respond with certified personnel." And, he tells KBND News, it would lead to less turnover, "You're getting an average of two to three years that you're getting a trained volunteer. So, they're looking at Warm Springs or all these other agencies that are growing; and we're stuck being stagnant."
The final decision is up to voters, likely next May, "So basically, the ballot measure would go before the voters a little less than a year from now," says Huff. That means the fire department and medical service must hammer out details immediately, "If we can make that happen, that'll be, I think, the best - To move forward, and to move forward quickly. But, I just don't want to move forward so quickly that we miss a step." He says the most important thing is to build a new, combined agency that will work best for residents.
Madras City Councilors will discuss the Matrix Group report at Tuesday night's Council meeting. It begins at 7 p.m.