OAKRDIGE, Ore. - This small city in the foothills of the Cascades is cutting back on ambulance service, raising fears among some residents they'll be left stranded in an emergency.
Oakridge, a sparsely-populated former logging town on Highway 58, is about an hour's drive from the nearest hospital in Eugene.
Last week, the Oakridge City Council voted unanimously to cut in half the number of hours it fully staffs one of its two main ambulances. Officials said it was a painful but necessary move in a lean budget year.
"It's an economic necessity," said Mayor Don Hampton.
Jim McKee, a longtime Oakridge resident, said he worries about what will happen when the city's primary ambulance is on the road to Eugene -- an hour drive each way -- and someone else has an emergency.
"No matter how you cut the cake people are going to die from this, period," said McKee, who volunteers with the Oakridge Fire Department but said he was speaking as a concerned citizen.
Tim Demers, Oakridge's fire chief, said the department will rely heavily on volunteers to operate the second ambulance during the hours it's not fully-staffed. The city has about 50 volunteers, he said, many of them highly-trained.
"They're a very dedicated group," Demers said. "They've risen to the occasion many, many times before and I'm confident they will this time."
Demers said the reduction in service is only temporary. He said both ambulances will be fully staffed once a fire department medic returns from medical leave early next year. Right now, the department has three paid staffers responsible for the ambulances.
In a pinch, he said, Oakridge can call for a mutual aid ambulance, although that takes about an hour to arrive. The city is also served by the Life Flight Network of medical helicopters.