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Who is South Lincoln Ambulance?

My name is Ed Hallahan, and I am one of the Directors of the Yachats Rural Fire Protection District (YRFPD).  There continues to be questions about the role of South Lincoln Ambulance Inc. (SLA) and how it interfaces with YRFPD, so I will attempt to explain in more detail. 

First, some history. In about 1930 (give or take), folks living in South Lincoln County realized there was no organized method of dealing with structure or wildland fires.  They decided to form an organization to improve on this.  Those folks joined together and called themselves Yachats Volunteer Fire Department (YVFD). In 1949, the Yachats Volunteer Fire Department (YVFD) had outgrown their ability to operate on just donations and informal, unofficial “levies”. The need was determined to create a Special District that could levy property taxes to fund the Fire Department.  YRFPD was thus created. 

When there was no established ambulance service in South Lincoln County and a serious accident or illness occurred, the Yachats Volunteer Fire Department was called.  The volunteer firefighters would respond and do what they could.  Patients were transported to Toledo, Corvallis, Florence, Portland, Roseburg and later Newport. As there was no other ambulance south of Wandamere Street (Now144th in Newport), the Yachats Volunteer Fire Department Volunteers responded to all of south Lincoln County. Since the area served was outside of the legal boundary of Yachats Rural Fire Protection District and the Fire Board was not comfortable with funding the ambulance function. The Yachats Volunteer Fire Department, still seeing the need in the community, decided to obtain an ambulance on their own. They started seeking donations directly from the people in and around Yachats. When the Ladies Club raised $329.00 in 1951, a 1947 Packard was purchased for $800.00!

The Yachats Volunteer Fire Department now had a new tool in their tool box, and if they were called for a medical emergency, they could opt to take the ambulance instead of a fire engine. Back then, things like emergency medical training and accreditation were still in their infancy, so with just splints, bandages, blankets and oxygen, the Yachats Volunteers Fire Department greatly improved their capabilities.  After a few years, a local patron suggested that the Volunteers could get more donations if they formed a nonprofit organization and donations could be deducted on federal income taxes.  In January of 1966, the YACHATS VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT created South Lincoln Ambulance Inc. (SLA). The firemen asked all the organizations in town to provide up to two people to be on the ambulance board.  The resulting five-member board provided formal governance, regular management meetings, and recordkeeping.

The SLA bylaws were written. The organization’s SOLE purpose was “…to furnish First Aid and ambulance service to the Residents and visitors of South Lincoln County and North West Lane County Oregon”.  There was no Ambulance Service Areas (ASA) in those days. SLA served the area south of Yachats to Cape Creek Tunnel, north to SE 144th Street in Newport, and east up Highway 34 and Yachats River Road to the county line. This included the Waldport area and Yachats. SLA started billing for the ambulance services, and that money went into funding for ambulance insurance, maintenance and repairs, licensing, gas, and medical supplies, and most importantly, ambulance replacement.

Recognizing that the people in the local area had donated money to get the ambulance service started, the board kept ambulance transport rates as low as possible, and people were allowed to pay, when and as they could. This is still true today.

Since SLA is a defined non-profit organization, all of their income is dedicated to keeping an insured, licensed, and stocked ambulance in the YRFPD station. SLA’s Board of Directors are still all uncompensated volunteers and SLA has no employees.

Do we need/want this ambulance?  This is not a new question. About 15 years ago, YRFPD mailed a postcard to every resident in our district, specifically asking that question, and reminding them that there was a cost associated with an affirmative answer.  The large response showed that the majority, by 2 to 1, wanted to continue to provide our own ambulance service. The alternative would have been to have a for-profit company provide that service, including billing every time they respond to a call, not just for a transport.

The State of Oregon is the licensing entity for ambulance service, and dictates that the chassis of an ambulance is most likely worn out after 10 years and should to be replaced, or at least undergo very frequent, detailed and expensive inspections.  The ambulance box should be replaced after 20 years.  So, unlike a fire engine that can be used indefinitely, as long as it passes an annual engine inspection and pump test, money has to be available at the 10- and 20-year points to purchase a new chassis or replace the ambulance.   Today the SLA Board of Directors provides that fiscal discipline. 

Today, Emergency Medical Service is a well-recognized responsibility of the fire service.  Regardless of who provides the ambulance service, YRFPD will roll on any and all emergency calls within our district. Ambulance service is regulated at the state level, and implemented in numerous ways.  New York City owns and operates its own ambulances, which roll alongside the Fire Department as necessary, or sometimes independently.  In some cities, hospitals provide the ambulance service.  Today, in Lincoln County, the other six fire districts opt to not provide ambulance service, although this has not always been the case.  In these Districts, a private company provides this service.  They and SLA are both overseen by Lincoln County.  The existence of a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an ambulance is indeed unique, but there is nothing nefarious about it.  SLA is unable to spend its income in any way except to support South Lincoln County.

So, who is SLA today?  It is the “child” of YVFD VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS, supported and nurtured by the YVFD VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS and their family and friends, who have worked without any compensation to keep SLA functioning, and able to fulfill its only mission, of keeping a viable ambulance in South Lincoln County, for the use of the firefighters and the good of the community.

If SLA were instead South Lincoln Fire Association, a non-profit whose purpose is to provide YVFD with new fire engines, nobody would question their existence for a moment. 

If you still have outstanding questions, please call the station and talk with Frankie or Shelby.