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Paramedic shortage affecting smaller city departments

Leon Valley Fire Chief Michael Naughton says there are several challenges from having a paramedic shortage.
Leon Valley Fire Chief Michael Naughton says there are several challenges from having a paramedic shortage.
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As the demand for medical assistance grows, so does the need for medical personnel. Fire departments are one of the EMS agencies that respond to all medical emergencies.

Firefighters and paramedics will be the first on scene, but it's the paramedic jobs that are starting to dwindle over time.

Although the job itself will have plenty of gratifying opportunities, "Yeah I delivered one baby and that's pretty much the most rewarding part," says Maria Villafranca.

At just 21 years old, Leon Valley Fire Department (LVFD) firefighter/paramedic Villafranca has seen a variety of trauma from stabbings, shootings, overdoses, and illnesses.

"You see a lot of the bad in the world," she says.

For Leon Valley, 80% are medical and 20% are fire. Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) says there has been a rise in calls since COVID, but they did not have specific numbers to give.

LVFD's Chief Michael Naughton says it can be stressful with the shortage of paramedics, "but we still have to maintain our minimum staffing so we have to bring people in on overtime to fill in those open positions."

He believes that's because of rigorous training, long shifts, and lower pay.

"We average here about 3000 calls a year so it varies, there's some days where we're out of the station most of the days running calls," says Villafranca.

Naughton says the workforce has diminished for all jobs in this sector, "People are steering away from public safety."

It takes one year to become a paramedic, and because of that, some departments are willing to hire people with no experience and pay for their training. A cost, Naughton says can run the station $150,000.

"Taking somebody, making them a fireman, then sending them to EMT and paramedic, and if you have the money that's the thing to do, but most smaller cities can't afford it," says Naughton.

LVFD currently has two paramedic positions open. Shavano Park FD also has a current $5,000 sign-on bonus for new applicants, the bonus is paid out with a three-year commitment to the city. Additionally, SPFD are currently hiring Paramedics that are not currently certified as Firefighters but will send them to a Fire Academy for the required fire training at no cost to the Paramedic.

In 2022, Senate Bill 8 added $21.7 million for EMS recruiting and retention. STRAC says this funding will add 2,500 paramedic jobs throughout the state. Scholarships through STRAC have already added 124 EMT basic jobs, 60 advanced EMT's, and 114 paramedics throughout the region. Most of these positions will head to the rural areas outside of Bexar County.

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A full list of paramedic positions throughout Texas can be found here.

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