Rural EMS Faces Personnel Shortage, Higher Call Load

FAIRFIELD BAY, Ark. - The Fairfield Bay EMS crew has its hands full. 

It saw a record year in 2016 with 731 calls but that may pale in comparison to the numbers it's seeing now.

With a record month in May seeing over 100 calls, it could approach 900 runs by December.

The purely volunteer organization highlights what some call trend in the state: more calls with less personnel.

"The fewer paramedics you have, potentially then you're looking at response time issues and coverage issues," said Jon Swanson, MEMS Executive Director and Board Member for Arkansas Ambulance Association. "We need more EMTs. We need more paramedics in order to meet the demand and meet our commitment to the community."

Swanson says a shortage of EMTs and paramedics extends across the state as this line of work faces several constant battles. 

He said, "It's not a career everyone is cut out for. Around here we use the expression that you don't know if the shirt fits unless you wear it for a while."

Places like hospitals also recognize the talent and skills paramedics have and hire them away willing to pay more money.

According to Arkansas Department of Health numbers, of the 7200 EMTs and paramedics in Arkansas (not all are working for EMS crews), there are about  200 almost every year who don't renew licenses. That has EMS services across the state working harder to bring more in.

MEMS and Fairfield Bay EMS both highlight the fact that there are low or no-cost options to get into this career field.

Both organizations will train you for free to get you in the door. 

Fairfield Bay has an EMT school and educator in house if you'll commit for two years.

And while the call load may be on the rise, there are two sides of that coin. It pays the bills, gets a new truck, and ultimately means more of what you're there for in the first place: saving lives.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of EMTS and paramedics is expected to grow by 33 percent from 2010 to 2020.

There will continue to be a demand for part-time, volunteer EMTs and paramedics in rural areas and smaller metropolitan areas.  

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