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‘Minutes can dictate whether you live or die’; Former TRAA paramedic and union president speaks out about worker shortage

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Paramedics are on the streets, responding when you need them the most. Until there appears to be not enough, and they’re stretched thin trying to save people’s lives. 

Former paramedic for Three Rivers Ambulance Authority and the former I.A.E.P. Local 525 union president resigned last week and now he’s speaking out about the paramedic shortage. 

Ian Case worked as a paramedic with TRAA for more than 20 years, but in late September he resigned. 

He says he took on the role as union president a few years ago when he saw a need to fight for better wages and better working conditions.  

“We impact lives, we hold the hands of those that are scared and hurt,” Case said. “We greet new life, and we mourn the passing of those that are in our charge that don’t make it.” 

Case explains what it’s like working as a paramedic right now and says his former coworkers should be treated as heroes. 

“Wages haven’t kept up with demand and the demands of the job have made it less appealing and left us with a shortage of paramedics,” Case said.  

He says paramedics are leaving our system in Fort Wayne because there’s a shortage causing them to be underpaid and overworked. 

“There’s no shortages of people getting sick, there’s no shortages of people getting hurt,” Case said. “It’s trying. It’s physically demanding.” 

Case says there’s no time for them to rest or process traumatic events they witness. He says they need to have 38 paramedics to be a full staff, but right now they’re working with less than 20. 

“We’ve had ambulances shot up, one of our medics was shot years ago at Piere's. Medics are assaulted on the scene. We don’t hear about that.” Case said. “We don’t hear about the struggles of dealing with traumatic events.” 

He says those paramedics are being forced to work mandatory overtime; they don’t get time to rest, and they barely make a livable wage. 

“Our paramedics are working two or three jobs just to make what a rookie fireman or patrol man makes.” 

According to public records, in the last year TRAA ambulances couldn’t respond to calls 813 times. That’s considered a ‘TRAA Level Zero’ and they have to call for assistance from communities outside of Fort Wayne. 

Paramedics with places like Hoagland, New Haven and Huntington are responding to calls in the city and it often delays the time it takes for people to get emergency help. 

“Minutes can dictate whether you live or die,” Case said. 

Case says 20 minutes is one of the longest calls he’s taken in the city.  

He says some days there’s only four to five TRAA ambulances responding for the entire city, when they should have 19 ambulances for a 24-hour period. 

“It's frustrating. You’re busy on another calling and knowing someone is in need and not being able to be there is a big source of frustrations,” Case said. “We wish we could, but we are stretched thin.” 

He says something needs to change for the sake of the paramedics and for the people who need emergency help.  

“I'm just hoping that this doesn’t get swept under the rug. EMS is usually in the background. We stay away from the public eye but we can’t do that anymore,” Case said. “This needs to be an issue that’s front and center until it’s resolved and that could be quit sometime.” 

So, what is it going to take to keep people in Fort Wayne and Allen County safe? 

Case says it’s time our EMS system is treated as a priority of our public safety system. 

He says a city can’t function without paramedics and they are no less important than our police officers or fire fighters. 

“Hold the system accountable. Make demands for better results,” he said. 

Case says paramedics aren’t going to be able to do that important work anymore if they don’t get the treatment they deserve. 

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Karli VanCleave

Karli VanCleave is a multimedia journalist at WPTA for the evening newscast. Karli is a Fort Wayne native and Indiana University Bloomington graduate.
Feel free to connect with her on Facebook (@KarliVanCleaveNews) and Twitter (@Karli_VanCleave), or if you have a story idea send her an email at kvancleave@wpta21.com.

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