Critical shortage of paramedics in N.Ky.

Departments thinking outside the box to fill jobs
Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 18:58:49-04

BURLINGTON,  Ky. – Chris Watson came all the way from Scotland to help fill a need for paramedics in Northern Kentucky. 

About 15 to 20 paramedic positions are open in the region. That has departments thinking outside the box to try to fill them.

Take Watson. The Point Pleasant Fire Department offered him a special perk - they're paying his tuition. In return, he works there and lives and works at Campbell County Fire District One as well.

"It is a very unique opportunity that I've been given here," says Watson. "They effectively get me as a competent firefighter and I get the tuition paid for effectively."

Every department is running short, and the "problem is not going away," says Jon Seitz, who works for Campbell County and Independence.

Seitz says paramedics have left due to pension changes, retirements and better pay elsewhere, and there is a shortage of qualified replacements.

"Probably the biggest standout is the training - people not having the time to get the necessary training to get into this job," Seitz says.

People who do have time can enroll at Gateway Technical College and train in a state-of-the-art medical environment, says Joshua Ishmael, an adjunct professor.

"We usually cap the paramedic programs at around 20 students and those classes are pretty full every year," Ishmael says.

The Burlington Fire Department, which had five openings, tried another tactic - hiring a full-time recruiter. Assistant Chief Rob Butcher says it's working.

 "Because of the recruiter, we've gone to a roster of over 50 active volunteers. Many of them have gotten the initial training and several of them are now working as firefighter/EMT," Butcher said.

Butcher said the shortage does not put Northern Kentucky residents at risk because of the extensive mutual aid arrangement between departments.

Northern Kentucky firefighters have even formed a task force to study the problem.

Part-timers make about $15 an hour. A full-time starter can begin at $45,000.