More Paramedics Needed to Answer the Workload


Staff Writer

WHEELING – The Wheeling Fire Department has implemented a “Paramedic Preferential Hiring” policy for at least the next three years to help maintain the proper workload for paramedics serving on the department, according to Fire Chief Larry Helms.

While all newly hired firefighters previously were required to become certified EMTs – Emergency Medical Technicians – new hires are now required to become a certified paramedic within four years of being hired. The paramedic position requires a higher level of medical training than the EMT. Helms said paramedics have more “advanced life support training” than EMTs do. He said paramedics are certified to perform things such as starting an IV, beginning medication therapies and making EKG interpretation and treatments.

Newly hired firefighters must become an EMT within a year, (depending on class availability) and then go on to achieve the paramedic status within a two-year span. However, Helms said the department is giving each new firefighter a total of four years to complete the entire training process to allow them “some cushion” in achieving that role.

“With this particular hiring list, anybody who is hired will be required to become a paramedic within four years,” Helms said.

He said the new policy is in place for at least the next three years to help maintain the proper “workload” for the various positions on the department.

He said the policy is being implemented for “a need” basis for new hires only. He said previously the preferential hiring list was in place for EMTs.

He said despite the fact that many of the officers on the department (including himself) are certified paramedics, it important to try and implement the proper workload rotation.

“We want to try and maintain having enough paramedics assigned to those paramedic positions and that way it gives us the ability to rotate those folks … it’s all about workload. We want to have enough paramedics to cover the workload,” Helms said. “They’re some of the busiest folks on this job and I don’t want them to get burned out.”

Helms is quick to point out while there are currently 27 certified paramedics serving on the department, many of those individuals are serving in supervisory roles.

He said it is obviously important for the officers to be able to perform supervisory duties when responding on calls, thus the reason for implementing the “Paramedic Preferential Hiring” policy.

“The idea is to allow those officers that are in those positions to remain in those positions and have enough paramedics to fill that need,” Helms said.

He said he recently brought the “Paramedic Preferential Hiring” issue before the local fire commission, which then approved the new policy. Including Helms, there are currently 27 certified paramedics serving on the department. He said they always have at least five full-time paramedics working on each shift.

Annually, the fire department responds to hundreds more medical emergency calls than to fire calls.