Under the program, residents can pay a yearly base fee and have their regular ambulance fee waived should an accident requiring hospitalization occur.

Emergency officials are touting an ambulance ride program that they say saves both lives and money.

Under the Ashland FireMed ambulance program, residents can pay a yearly base fee and have their regular ambulance fee waived should an accident requiring hospitalization occur.

Residents pay a $52 yearly membership to Ashland Fire & Rescue to enroll in the program — a drastic savings from the financial impact of ambulance fees, often exceeding $1,000.

"It really has been a beneficial program for people over the years," said Greg Case with Ashland Fire & Rescue. "I know that for some people, if they had had to pay the bill for their ambulance ride, they wouldn't have been able to afford their hospital stay. But with FireMed they were covered."

FireMed absorbs the ambulance fee, billing an injured person's insurance carrier for the ride. But it is also available for individuals without medical coverage.

"It's specifically for those with low incomes," Case said. "If you don't have insurance, this basically functions as really cheap insurance."

Ashland Fire & Rescue established the FireMed ambulance ride in 1998, to combat high fees and improve individual access to medical resources. More than 1,200 families in Ashland and Talent have signed on over that time.

FireMed has expanded throughout the state over the decade, now covering much of the Interstate 5 corridor and into Eastern Oregon. More than 80 ambulance providers statewide recognize FireMed.

Fees for the program aid Fire & Rescue officials by paying for service training classes in the department, and purchasing up-to-date medical equipment.

People from all income brackets can sign on. With a single yearly payment of $52, a member's entire family receives FireMed coverage. Should an accident require medical transportation, the individual would be assessed only a small fee, based on the driving distance from their home to the hospital.

"The fee is per household. That means if you're a family, it covers the husband, it covers the wife and kids," Case said.

Though he says the program has been successful, Case stressed it is only for use in severe, potentially life-threatening situations.

"It doesn't cover going to your doctor's appointment."

But he added that, for what amounts to $1 a week, families in the program take comfort knowing Fire & Rescue officials are looking out for their financial wellbeing, as well as their health.

"The average ambulance bill is over $1,000, so looking at our base rate plus mileage depending on how far the ride is, you're still looking at pretty big savings," Case said.

Ashland residents interested in joining the program can call the City of Ashland FireMed hotline, 488-6009.

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at eglucklich@gmail.com.