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Paramedic shortage prompts TRAA to call county units more often for help

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) -- More and more these days, Fort Wayne's Three Rivers Ambulance Authority needs to rely on paramedic crews from the county to cover runs in the city limits.

"If we're backing up another department or another agency or another city, we need to make sure we're taking care of our own, as well. Because the city's seen a rise in call volume and so are we out in the county," said the president of the Allen County Fire Chiefs Association Robert Boren.

Boren wrote a letter to the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority expressing concern that a shortage of paramedics in the city has meant more and more crews from other departments are being called to cover runs.

"It's been 15 to 20 times a month from the normal 5 to 6 times a month," Three Rivers Ambulance Authority's Gary Booher said.

He said there simply aren't enough paramedics to staff ambulances.

"It's not a matter of they don't want to hire more staff, it's a matter of right now they can't find the staff to hire," Gary Booher said.

He says the coronavirus has prompted many to leave the business, transfer to outlying departments with fewer calls for service, are too burned out to accept the triple time pay for overtime, or are being treated for COVID-19 or quarantining because they were exposed to it.

Also, COVID has closed all the paramedic schools in the country, so there aren't any new graduates available.

"It's not a matter of they don't want to hire more staff, it's a matter of right now they can't find the staff to hire," Booher said.

It also takes longer to disinfect ambulances after every run, so they're not available to return to service as quickly as before.

"If you can't staff it because you can't hire the medics because they're not out there to hire them, you have two options. You can either say okay, they're going to have to wait until we get there or you have a county unit come in so at least something's coming in," he said.

Thursday, some of the Allen County fire chiefs met with TRAA leaders to discuss how the overall system could work better.

Boren says if you call for help, it will get to you, even if the ambulance is still a few minutes away.

"You have great first responders. The city of Fort Wayne has paramedic engines that are responding to give first-hand care right away. So in that time that it takes to get maybe a longer outlying ambulance to that house, they already have that care, that life-saving care right at their feet," Boren said.

Now that paramedic schools are opening up, Booher says more grads will be available to be hired, but says it will take a while to get back to full staffing.

He says if you need an ambulance, you should call 911, no matter what.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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