Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Perhaps no place in Oregon has that been better exemplified than in the Rogue Valley with the forming some 62 years ago of Mercy Flights.
A young flight controller at the Medford Airport lost a friend with polio because they couldn’t get him to Portland fast enough for treatment in an iron lung.
That was the last straw for Milligan. He set about creating an ambulance service. But he couldn’t do it alone. From children dropping their coins in strategically placed milk cartons to Eugene F. Burrill, owner of Burrill Lumber in White City, the community joined to bring ambulance service to southern Oregon. Burrill served on the Mercy Flights Board of Directors from 1950 through the 1990s.
The Burrill name is still very much a part of Mercy Flights. Mike Burrill Jr., as treasurer of the board of directors, talked about his father’s involvement with the service. According to Marla Cates in her book “The Mill in the Brush. A Biography of Eugene F. BurrillI , she says “As the world’s only non-profit air ambulance corporation, its mission was to provide air service for medical emergencies within a 200-mile radius of Medford.” Cates said, “Eventually, Mercy Flights became a contributing factor to the region’s growth as a state-of-the art medical center.” As opposed to a region that had to send patients elsewhere for treatment, Medford is now a center of medical service from Sacramento to Eugene,-Salem or even Portland.
“Caring and compassion is what makes Mercy Flights special,” said Manager Ken Parsons.
Ruth Ballweg, Milligan’s daughter shared some of her memories of the early days of Mercy Flights at the Oct. 26 new facility open house. She recalled her father learning about government sales in Arizona and his purchase of several twin Beachcraft planes for $5 each. This gave him spare parts for the first aircraft.
Ballweg said the truck full of dynamite that exploded in Roseburg in 1959 really established Mercy Flights. They were first on the scene. Mercy Flights also had the contract to seed the clouds at the Medford Airport on those foggy, foggy days.
Mercy Flights received a $3.9 million grant from Connect Oregon III a year ago. The new hanger and administration facility was built by S.B. James. Gary Huntley had the contract for the plumbing. It only took 11 months from concept to completion. “This is the proudest day at Mercy Flights,” noted Chief Operations Officer, Doug Stewart, who has been with the agency for 17 years.
Kathy Parsons, chief financial officer was honored as the longest employee. She has been with Mercy Flights for 26 years. Currently there are 118 employees, 78 of whom are full time. They have 19 ambulances, 10 actively on shift at a time. In addition to the ambulances, they have a mass casualty incident unit that can handle supplies for 75 people. The helicopter is on a contract and there are two fixed wing King Air C90 aircraft. The aircraft can fly in the 11 Western states whereas the helicopter’s range is 150 mile radius.
An emergency ride in an airplane can cost $15,000. And that makes the membership in Mercy Flights extremely appealing. Combined annual air and ground service for a single person is $60, family $70, senior single $35 and senior family is $60. For membership call 541-858-2600 or visit www.mercyflights.com
By Nancy Leonard and Kathy Sell
Of the Independent