Marshall Neeck, left, Crater Lake National Park's chief ranger, and Maria Mackie, fire program management assistant and an emergency medical technician intermediate at the park, receive an ambulance donated Monday by Mercy Flights. - Jim Craven

Mercy Flights makes life-saving donation to Crater Lake park

The old ambulance at Crater Lake National Park struggled mightily to respond to an emergency last year, but the steep grade was too much for the 1990 vehicle.

"It broke down with a patient being transported in it," recalled Jeff Allen, executive director of the nonprofit Crater Lake National Park Trust created in 2002 to support the park, which contains the nation's deepest lake.

"Fortunately, they were able to keep treating the patient until help arrived, but it was a wake-up call that they needed to replace the old ambulance," he said.

The call was answered Monday with a donated ambulance from the Medford-based nonprofit Mercy Flights Inc. The 1999 Ford E-350 came with a spiffy new free paint job, complete with the park logo, courtesy of New Stage Collision in Medford.

"This is literally the gift of life for us," said Marshall Neeck, the park's chief ranger, when he accepted the keys.

The park normally has more than two dozen calls for an ambulance each year, mostly during the summer, he said.

"People come up to Crater Lake who aren't prepared for the lack of oxygen or the strenuous nature of getting around," he said of the crater, whose rim crests at 7,000-feet elevation.

But budget constraints don't allow the National Park Service to purchase a new ambulance to respond to the medical emergencies which often come in the form of heart or respiratory problems, officials said.

"We certainly don't have the depth of funding that would support buying a new ambulance," Neeck said. "The majority of our support for this program comes through donations that occur throughout the year. People come in and see that little jar and donate what they can."

The "new" ambulance was retired by Mercy Flights, which regularly upgrades its emergency vehicles, said General Manager Ken Parsons.

The Mercy Flights has four new ambulances on order, each costing a little more than $110,000, he said.

"For what they will be using it for, it is conceivable they could get another six to 10 years out of it," Parsons said of the donated ambulance, which has about 170,000 miles on it. "It is mechanically sound."

The ambulance service makes a point of keeping its emergency vehicles in top shape, he said.

"We are very strong on preventative maintenance," he said. "We end up keeping them six to eight years. They go from heavy use to lighter use as we replace them. Since they are still mechanically sound when we retire them, we try to donate them."

New Stage Collision, which has been around for 35 years, also wanted to donate its services, said Dave Husel, whose family owns the firm.

"Our family loves Crater Lake," he said. "We've spent a lot of time there. And we love what Mercy Flights does for the community. It's a little piece of what we could do to give back."

Trust board members Robert MacLellan and Bill Thorndike organized the donations.

"It is a great example of the communities in this valley pulling together to express how much they love and support Crater Lake," Allen said.

Known as a Type 1 ambulance, the donated rig is excellent for the job, said Maria Mackie, the fire program management assistant and an emergency medical technician intermediate at the park.

"It can haul two people but it is designed to have two (stretchers) drop down which would allow you to haul four people if you had to," she said.

"Whoever is available to drive will do it. A lot of times one of the rangers will drive it and I'll jump in the back or vice versa."

One of the park's diesel mechanics checked it out and found it in very good shape, Neeck said.

"It has quite a bit of life left in it," the chief ranger added.

Meanwhile, the trust hopes to obtain additional donations of medical equipment for its favorite national park.

"We are looking for a heart defibrillator," Allen said. "A lot of the medical problems they have at the park are heart-attack related.

"Eventually, we'd also like to find the funding to get the park a new ambulance," he added. "If we can secure funding for the park to buy a new ambulance and related equipment, then it would become a permanent part of the park's budget."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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