Firefighters find way to offer a lift

Taxi tokens for rides tied to emergencies are part of District 6 experiment

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

District 6 firefighters noticed that some people they served had no way to get to or from the hospital after an emergency, such as a car crash.

So they came up with a solution: give those people a prepaid taxi ride to the hospital or other location inside the district's jurisdiction, which covers Salmon Creek, Felida and Hazel Dell.

"All we are is big problem solvers," said Firefighter Bill Dunlap, who spearheaded the project.

Dunlap said that many people in the lower-income parts of the district don't own cars and can't afford a taxi ride. So, when someone gets injured, sometimes family members can't get to the hospital in a timely manner.

Yet it's important for family members to be at the hospital because they can answer medical questions if a patient is incapacitated, said Dr. Lynn Wittwer, Clark County's Medical Program Director, who helped shape the token program.

The service will start out slowly and cautiously, he said.

"It's an experiment, basically," Wittwer said. "If it catches on, we'll probably see more of it."

With one token, a Vancouver Cab Co. taxi takes someone to Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center or picks them up from there. Two tokens are used for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, which is farther from District 6.

The tokens might otherwise be used by someone to get home from the hospital or to get to the hospital for an evaluation of a nonurgent medical issue, like a sprained ankle, Wittwer said.

About 50 tokens, each valued at $20, were printed and paid for by the Clark County Fire District 6 Firefighters Assistance Fund, not with district funds. Each month, firefighters donate a dollar or two of their own money to the assistance fund, which goes to temporarily assist the people they serve.

Firefighters might buy Popsicles for a group of kids on a sweltering day, or give a $50 WinCo gift card to a family they notice doesn't have much food in the fridge.

Firefighter Josh Surenok suggested the taxi idea at the end-of-year meeting for the fund's board. At first, the board considered handing out business cards with vouchers stamped on them, but then worried people might try to make copies and rip them off.

Dunlap said firefighters try to direct use of the money in the assistance fund so it isn't abused.

The taxi tokens can't be used in lieu of an ambulance ride for someone requiring urgent care, and they can't be used just to get a lift somewhere. It has to be related to an emergency within District 6.