The emergency ambulance service in Milton-Freewater is on the verge of shutting down.

Taxes don't fund the Milton-Freewater Emergency Medical Service. Rather, people in the Milton-Freewater area pay $55 for a year-long membership to get the service. Cathy Mebes, the public relations manager for the service, said membership is at a critical point.

"Currently there are just over 5,000 households in Milton-Freewater," Mebes said in an e-mail. "The MF EMS has 311 members currently. The MF EMS needs 2000 more memberships to remain in business."

Without those memberships, Mebes said the service won't be able to provide local ambulance runs.

The service has three advanced life-support ambulances, three full time paramedics, four full time emergency medical technicians and 10 volunteer EMT's that provide assistance.

"The MF EMS is a mobile emergency room capable of performing triage and life saving procedures on site and en route to a hospital," Mebes said.

She said a Umatilla County Emergency Management employee who had lived in the area for a few years told the service he thought the city took the cost for ambulance fees out of water bills.

Mebes said the service staff realized if someone with the county's emergency management didn't understand how the service received funds, then it was time to let citizens know they needed to buy memberships to get the service.

"It is puzzling that residents - after 17 years of MF EMS support - still have no idea that their tax dollars are not covering this ambulance service," Mebes said.

Mebes also pointed out most insurance companies only pay a small portion of ambulance fees, leaving customers to pay the rest. Further, she said the membership extends beyond the borders of Milton-Freewater.

"If you have a MF EMS membership, you are also covered in many other towns across the state when transported by ambulance in an emergency," she said.

The Milton-Freewater Rural Fire Department created the service in 1996, to address accounts of lagging response time of 9-1-1 emergency medical service calls. Since then, the services has been the only provider of EMS support to the Milton-Freewater area.

Mebes said people can call 938-7146 to purchase a membership, or send checks to MF EMS, P.O. Box 356, Milton-Freewater, OR 97862. The service will send a contract after it has received the $55 fee.

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