Local districts see shortage of emergency medical service responders

As the demand for healthcare rises, the number of first responders answering calls for help has not. The EMS shortage is an issue you could face when you call 911 for help, especially for people living in rural areas.

That’s because crews often rely on volunteer EMS and firefighters for emergency calls. As it turns out, few people are willing and able to give their time to volunteer. These volunteers do get paid, but it is per call.

Spokane County Fire District 3 is no exception to the shortage. They say 70 to 80 percent of their calls are medical related.

Across the district, they have about 120 volunteers, but the district says that’s still not enough.

“We cover approximately 570 square miles,” said Dustin Flock, the division chief with District 3.

The district also has 11 stations in Spokane County, covering about a third of the county.

“The people that are calling in that are having that worst day, they’re hoping that and expecting that somebody shows up,” said Flock.

Most of the responders at District 3 are both certified as firefighters and in EMS.

“The shortage is extremely dangerous,” he said.

They are not alone in facing this shortage. Mike Lopez, the president of the East Region EMS and Trauma Care Council says it’s everywhere.

“It’s a really multifaceted challenge. There’s a lot of dynamics that come into play,” Lopez said.

One reason they may not be seeing more people want to join EMS is because of time. Some people are already working, so to volunteer more time, especially to be away from family is one challenge they face.

“EMS is a very demanding profession,” Lopez said.

Another is the money. To get certified to be in EMS is at least 100 or more hours. There are different levels of being in the service; as it climbs higher, the more time is needed to be trained.

“Then you have ongoing education that the state requires in order to maintain certification,” Lopez said.

Flock said to be a firefighter and in EMS, takes about 400 hours to train before getting those titles.

More recently, to help combat the shortage, Flock said they want to hire people who want to do either EMS or firefighting instead of both.

“That’s kind of where we’re headed to see if that can make a difference. Some people just don’t want to do fire, they don’t want to go into a burning home, but they’re more than willing to help a neighbor and show up for an EMS call,” he said.

District 3 just recently added a volunteer recruitment and retention officer to go into the community and find those who might be interested in being part of the service.

Though more emergency calls are coming in and the demand of responders isn’t rising, Flock said someone will still always be there to help.,

“We are still going to show up. Somebody will be there. We just don’t know how many people we will have to show up at the incident,” Flock said.

In some stations they have as many as seven people who will work when called. Other stations they have 16. However, Flock said they would like each station to have at least 15 to 20 people.