West Virginia Northern Community College Gets $500K for EMT, Paramedic Training

File Photo Ohio County EMS paramedics Anthony McDaniel, left, and Robbie Geisel stand with the county’s ambulance outside the City-County Building in Wheeling.

WHEELING — Local fire and emergency departments now won’t need to send members out of the area to get EMT and paramedic training.

West Virginia Northern Community College announced Wednesday it has received a $500,000 grant from the West Virginia Community and Technical College System to offer EMT and paramedic training on all three of its campuses — Wheeling, New Martinsville and Weirton.

There are presently no regular programs of study for paramedics offered in the Northern Panhandle. Those aspiring to be paramedics had to travel to Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, West Virginia, or take a class at Belmont College in St. Clairsville when they were available.

The drive and time involved often discouraged many from getting the training at a time when EMT and paramedics are needed and there are more career opportunities for them, according to officials with local emergency services.

“It has been a long time coming,” said Lou Vargo, emergency management agency director in Ohio County. “We used to have programs in the region, but it has been a big need for the past couple of years.”

Vargo wasn’t certain how long it has been since paramedic training on a regular basis was available in the Northern Panhandle. He said Ohio County recently sent an ambulance employee to Pierpont college to receive paramedic training.

Vargo said attracting people to serve as paramedics has become “a national issue,” and people already have to work around job and school obligations to serve.

“When you put traveling out of the area and a training schedule on top of that, it makes it even more difficult.,” he said.

Valley Grove Fire Chief John Gearry, also president of the Ohio County Fire Chiefs Association, said they have had some members take EMT and paramedic training online, then only travel to a schooling location for hands-on training.

Gearry sees there is an increasing need for people to become career paramedics. He views the new training program as good not just for fire departments, but a path to a well-paying job.

“We have had ongoing training for members, but it has been scarce and not done locally,” Gearry said. “There has always been a shortage of those needed for these trained positions, and a lot of things have changed.”

As West Virginia University and others become more involved in the medical business, there will be more of a demand for trained EMTs and paramedics, according to Gearry.

While EMTs and paramedics once were paid just above minimum, that is now changing, he said.

“It is more attractive now, and this training will add to that attraction,” Gearry said.

The WVNCC EMT and paramedic programs have been supported by the City of Weirton Fire Department, Northern Panhandle Workforce Investment Board, Ohio County EMS, Valley Grove VFD, Hancock County Ambulance Service, Wheeling Fire Department, Hancock County 911 Center, City of Moundsville, Ohio County EMA, Brooke County EMS, Bethlehem Fire Department, WV Public Service Training-Wheeling WV, and many others, according to information provided by WVNCC.

Their data also show that in the past year, there have been over 950 job postings for these jobs in the three-state region that includes parts of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.The projected growth rate over the next 10 years is 12.6%, according to WVNCC.

WVNCC also conducted a survey of the local region that indicated a need of more than 50 additional EMTs and 30 to 40 paramedics annually.

According to the WVNCC research and survey of employers, paramedics earn $42,000 annually and EMTs make $32,000 each year on average.

The paramedic program is currently planned as non-credit career development training, but WVNCC plans to implement pathways from it to other credit programs. Those obtaining their paramedic certification — through WVNCC or elsewhere — are eligible to apply for the technical studies degree.

Students also will be able to transition from paramedic to registered nurse through an anticipated bridge program currently under development at WVNCC, he said. From there, bridge program completers could then transition to a bachelor’s degree in nursing through a statewide articulation agreement.

Phil Klein, WVNCC vice-president of economic and workforce development, said the first EMT training class actually began with the start of the spring semester.

“We had 12 applicants,” he said. “All are still enrolled and doing well in the program.”

Additional programs are scheduled for the summer and fall, and cost for the EMT program is $650.

The EMT program differs from the paramedic program in that it provides 165 hours of training — eight hours a day for five weeks. It covers basic life-support techniques, such as CPR and bandaging.

The paramedic program, meanwhile, will teach advanced life-support techniques to participants. It involved 1,000 hours of training over 14 months. During their training, participants will learn medication administration, how to diagnose such medical issues as heart attacks, and making critical care decisions.

The paramedic program is set to begin in August, with a cost of $3,999. Funding sources are available to reimburse the cost of EMT and paramedic training, according to Klein.


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