CHEEKTOWAGA, NY (WKBW) — When you're experiencing a medical emergency, you expect help to be there day or night. But did you know there is actually a shortage of first responders in our area?
The New York State Health Department released a survey that found the number of EMT’s and paramedics has dropped nine percent in a decade.
7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked with Erie County Emergency Services about this critical shortage.
The state survey noted “a substantial number of EMS agencies report an impaired ability to respond to calls for assistance due to shortages of certified EMT’s and paramedics.”
Inside Erie County Emergency Services in Cheektowaga, Deputy Commissioner Gregory Gill works with staffers on a training dummy to teach emergency techniques.
Gill says he didn't need a state survey to tell him about an EMS shortage, a shortage he calls “very complex.”
“It's commercial services. It's mixed services and volunteer services, so to be able to put out a product that people could take and provide the service is always a challenge,” Gill explained.
Gill says pay and time commitments are making it more difficult to recruit new generations of paramedics and EMT’s as volunteers or working for ambulance providers.
“If you're in a rural area, it's going to take you two and a half hours, three hours to get back from that call, who really has that time. Many people are working two jobs now,” Gill noted.
Paramedics can earn about $50,000 a year in our region, but it's less for EMT’s.
“If you want to be an EMT its substantially low – it's $10.00 less an hour, so you start at $14.00 am hour – so your winding up getting $30,000 a year for regular salary and that's tough,” remarked Gill.
Jon Torre works at County Emergency Services but is also the chief at Hillcrest Fire in Orchard Park. He admits it's not an easy job, but says it's rewarding.
“EMS is a tough field to be in, but it has a lot of rewarding things to it. Your job has purpose – at the end of the day you see an immediate result of the things you were doing,” Torre replied.
Torre said each year, in April, fire houses participate in “Recruit New York”, holding open houses to invite citizens to learn more about their work.
Gill's been an emergency responder for 47-years. He tells us he got hooked in his very first training class.
“And the reward of getting to somebody, getting them to the hospital and then finding out five days larger that they were discharged. The chest pain patient that looked gray that you didn't think was going to make it – you put him in the ambulance and then three days later, he’s out in front of the house shoveling snow – that's the reward,” Gill declared.
At Erie County’s Department of Emergency Services training is ongoing for those who are willing to learn save someone's life.
Gill also spoke about his own personal experience in needed emergency assistance. He’s suffering from a hip problem and it worsen to a point where he was unable to walk and in need of immediate medical care. He recalled Torre and Gill’s son, a paramedic, coming to his aid.
Gill teared up as he spoke about the experience of receiving emergency care.
“You don’t understand how good a feeling it is lying there – but they take care of you,” Gill reflected.
Commissioner Gill will be holding his own EMS. Training session starting March 21st.
The requirements for EMT classed call for 166 hours for certification. Advanced level requires an additional 155 hours plus 100 clinical hours. For paramedic training, they must conduct the EMT plus 2,000 hours of training and clinical work. Both EMT’s and paramedics must recertify every three years.
Some high schools are now offering school-based emergency medical training for students. The age for EMT. Certification has also been lowered from 18 to 17.
Gill worries 17 might be too young, but welcomes the education programs.
“My concern is are they ready to deal with it. It is hard enough at 18, 20 to deal with some of the things you have to deal with out in the field. I’m just hoping they are going to be prepared and I’m sure the schools will do what they can, but prepare them for what they are going to have to deal with,” Gill said.
Erie 1 Boces tells 7 Eyewitness News a new program will be offered next fall in the Kenton School District for 11th and 12th graders.
Anedda Trautman, director of Career & Technical Education Programs for Erie 1 Boces in West Seneca says they are creating this new program to “meet the desperate shortage of EMS professionals in WNY.”
“Erie 1 BOCES will be offering a NYS approved program that prepares students for First Responder Certification and EMT-B. Erie 1 BOCES will work with Erie Community College to support the EMS shortage to our local providers of services: Mercy Flight, AMR and Twin City. Students in 11th and 12th grade interested in enrolling in the program being offered at Erie 1 BOCES, Kenton Center should speak with their guidance counselor,” Trautman wrote.
The program is expected to begin in September.