Jefferson County residents get their emergency services, fire and ambulance, in a way that most Oregonians do not, through two special districts, one for fires, the other for emergency medical needs. There’s been talk in the past of merging the two into a single district, and the effort got a shot in the arm when the city of Madras, the county and the fire district put up money for a study of the idea.

That study is nearly complete, and it will recommend that a single district be formed. Moreover, it will back its recommendation with a list of the benefits a single district would bring.

According to the study, done by Matrix Consulting Group, which specializes in such things, a merger means better emergency services countywide. Currently the fire district is staffed by volunteers nights and weekends, with paid staff on duty only during the day Monday through Friday. The EMS district relies in part on a dwindling number of part-timers.

A combined district would allow for round-the-clock staffing of two ambulances and an engine company, increasing coverage and decreasing the need for part-time employees.

Too, forming a single district could also bring badly needed financial stability to the EMS district, which is funded largely through Medicare and Medicaid (Oregon Health Plan) dollars. The district has no tax base, and government funds are declining. It’s going to have to find new funding in the near future, and if creating a single new district from the current two provides that even as it improves service, that, too, is a win.

Combining the two districts won’t happen overnight, though work toward that end should move forward as quickly as possible, with support from all involved. Presumably the people who work for and volunteer for both districts do so because they want to keep their friends and neighbors alive and safe. A new combined district offers the best way to do that.

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