History of Columbia River Fire & Rescue's Ambulance Service
Dr. Edwin Ross was a physician who was responsible for the building and implementation of the first local hospital in the early 1930s. It was also during this time that local morticians implemented an ambulance service in Columbia County. The ambulance was not considered Basic Life Support (BLS) as we know it today, but was mainly used for simply transporting someone to the hospital. No real care was given, except to bandage wounds.
March 1951: Fire District alarm records show the first use of an ambulance by the Fire Department. The Fire Department was more of a backup to the mortician-run ambulance service with little collaboration between the two entities. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, a community hospital was built along Highway 30.
In 1969, Chuck Stimpson purchased the ambulance from the local mortician and began running the service out of his home on South 17th and Tualatin Street in St Helens. He and one other on-call person handled most of the emergency calls still at a service below BLS. On occasion, when no other person was available, Fire Department personnel were used on the ambulance. If Scappoose could not respond, the ambulance would also cover that area.
Between 1975 and 1980, the St Helens Community Hospital along Highway 30 ran the ambulance service. The hospital based the ambulance right out of the emergency room and used Basic Life Support Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) as both emergency room technicians and ambulance personnel. This is when the service evolved into a full-time service staffed 24 hours a day. At times, only one person staffed the ambulance and the hospital again relied on the Fire Department to provide other personnel on the emergency scene to assist.
The Rainier Rural Fire District provided ambulance service since 1976. It began as a volunteer service with Basic Life Support EMTs and grew to meet the needs of the community over the years. In 1983, RRFD contracted with the Longview Ambulance Services for Paramedics while they trained two personnel to maintain Advanced Life Support (ALS services. In 1994, three firefighters/paramedics were hired to provide full time ALS services.
In November 1981, the hospital determined that the ambulance service could no longer survive financially. The St Helens Fire District assumed the responsibility of providing a 24 hour ambulance service. Voter's approval increased the tax rate to $4.65 per $1,000. This added six new firefighter positions and cross-trained most of the personnel in both fire suppression and EMS, providing more medically necessary trained personnel and more fire suppression personnel on-duty at one time than ever before. Clearly, this provided an improved level of service to the community.
In 1990, the St Helens Community Hospital closed its doors. This placed a huge burden on the local emergency medical services, since the nearest hospitals were Portland or Longview. Almost immediately, calls for emergency medical ambulance services doubled.
Currently, Columbia River Fire & Rescue has seven licensed Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances that provide 24 hour a day medical service to our communities. CRFR provides EMS response and transport services for ASA 3 & 4 with a total of 33 Paramedics, 2 Intermediate EMTs, 11 EMT Basics, 2 First Responders and many volunteer firefighters. For over 30 years we have provided an exceptionally high level of pre-hospital care to the citizens within our ambulance service areas.