Lebanon and Albany fire departments have expanded their joint medic venture in Tangent and are now covering the valley seven days a week.

The two fire agencies created Medic 71, a unit stationed in Tangent that both departments share, in July 2016. This past summer, they added another unit, Medic 72, and two more personnel from Lebanon.

Both ambulances have been operating six days a week, but it was clear early on that needed to change, Lebanon Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe said. On Feb. 25, the medic units added a seventh day of coverage.

"We're constantly looking at the numbers," he said. "It became blazingly apparent after about six months, we needed to pick up Sundays."

More than three-quarters of the calls that come into both Lebanon and Albany are requests for medical help. Of those, many eventually result in the need to transfer a patient from one hospital to another.

Lebanon experiences more transfer calls than Albany because its hospital is smaller and provides fewer specialty services. So right now, Lebanon is supplying four personnel for the two medic units and Albany is supplying two. 

The calls bear out that way, too, Albany Chief John Bradner said: Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, the two Tangent-based units responded to 435 calls from Lebanon and 274 from Albany. Of those, 260 were Lebanon transfer calls and 132 were Albany transfer calls. 

Sletmoe estimated it cost about $115,000 for the two additional crew members, plus about another $10,000 for turnouts and equipment.

The main advantage of an additional, shared medic unit is it keeps dual-role personnel — crew members who are trained to be both firefighters and paramedics — more available for local emergencies. 

That way, if a patient needs a transfer to, say, Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland — a regular occurrence — the medic unit can make the drive, leaving firefighters in the valley to respond to fires, car crashes, water rescues or any other issue.

Case in point, Sletmoe said: This past November, medics from the shared Tangent-based unit were on their way to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital to take a patient for a transfer when they heard a call about a house fire in Lebanon.

The medic crew responded instead to the fire, where an injured woman was on the ground outside the home. They were able to perform immediate medical intervention, allowing the firefighters to work on battling the flames.

"The overarching goal of this program is to keep more dual-role people in this district more often," Sletmoe said. 

Tangent benefits by having additional medic access, too, Tangent Chief Scott Casebolt said. Without Medic 71 and 72, the closest ambulance is Station 12 in Albany, about a 10-minute drive. With the shared unit, "We get an ambulance almost immediately," Casebolt said. 

Besides allowing space for the medic units, the Tangent Rural Fire District also provides a dorm room for personnel to crash for the night when they come back from a late call.

"I really appreciate the partnership, with Lebanon, with Tangent," Bradner said. "It's really beneficial to all our constituents." 

The partnership is helpful in another way, too, Sletmoe said: It works like an exchange program, teaching each crew member about the other's station.

Firefighters essentially have the same job, but each station has its own culture and preferred methods, Sletmoe said. "Having the exchange of culture here really helps." 

While the need may exist in the future, neither Albany nor Lebanon is ready to add a Medic 73 unit to Tangent. However, they're already contemplating even more personnel, though not this year.

Call volumes at all three stations have been going up an average of 10 percent per year, as the communities continue to both grow and age. 

Census records show Linn County's median age shifted from 37 to 39 between 2000 and 2010. It also grew by about 14,000 people.

In 2000, roughly 38 percent of the population was 45 or older. A decade later, that had changed to 43 percent.

"More days, more hours," Sletmoe said. "That's the key."