Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I call 9-1-1? Isn’t it faster to just have someone drive me to the hospital?

Not necessarily. Calling 9-1-1 for a medical emergency is like bringing the emergency department to you. The paramedics can start medications, IVs and other procedures before you even arrive at the hospital. That’s especially important if you are experiencing chest pain or suffering from a stroke. A delay of just minutes means heart muscle or brain cells are dying. While we are treating you, the hospital is preparing for your arrival.

Why do fire engines come when I call 9-1-1 for a medical emergency?

It depends on the type of medical emergency. Cardiac arrest calls require a minimum of four responders, but six is preferred. The dispatchers send the closest unit to the call. Each unit – ambulance or fire engine – carries two or three responders. Since most medical calls require more than two responders, a second unit is also dispatched. In more remote areas, such as Wilkeson, a volunteer unit may also respond, since they may be closer than a staffed station.

Why do I get a bill for ambulance service? I thought there was no cost to residents.

You’re right – here are no out-of-pocket costs for residents who live within our district. We do, however, charge your insurance company, Medicare or Medicaid for the cost of the ambulance ride. If you are a resident, you will receive a statement from our billing service. It’s just a request for information to submit to the insurance company. It’s not a bill you are expected to pay.

Individuals who live outside of the district are charged. This helps support our ambulance operation.

Occasionally, a private ambulance will respond to the call if all of our personnel are responding to multiple calls or a large-scale fire. They are a separate corporation that provides service to our area and will charge you for the ambulance ride.

Contact our Emergency Medical Billing Services department for questions regarding notices or invoices related to ambulance services. 

Can I go to the hospital of my choice?

Most of the time you get to choose the hospital. But it really depends on the severity of the injuries or the type of medical call. If there is an immediate life threat, you may need to go to the closest hospital. Really serious emergencies may need the services of a trauma center. There are three in our area: Tacoma General, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Harborview Medical Center. If you called us because of chest pain, you may need specialized treatment at a hospital that has a catheterization lab. Sometimes hospitals are on “diversion”. That means the emergency department is full and they will not accept any new patients except under the most dire circumstances.

Do you use a medical helicopter for transporting critically ill or injured patients?

Sometimes we do, especially if the patient is in a remote area or the traffic or weather is particularly bad. However, those are pretty extreme circumstances. It’s often faster (and cheaper – a helicopter ride costs approximately $8,000) to go by ambulance. When a helicopter is called, it takes some time to arrive. Then it must find an open area to land, such as a school playground. Since it is seldom directly next to our patient, we must load the patient into an ambulance and drive to the helicopter. If the helicopter goes to Harborview Medical Center, the landing pad is located near the facility and again the patient must be loaded into a waiting ambulance and transported to the emergency room.

Do you have a question for us? Send us an email at and we will try to answer it on this page.

Print this page

Twitter Facebook