City creating new job for paramedics

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Since the Winchester Fire Department and the Winchester-Clark County Ambulance Service merged 25 years ago, employees were required to be certified as both a firefighter and an EMT or paramedic.

With the department currently facing five vacancies among its nine paramedic positions, the Winchester Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday evening to create a single-role paramedic position, which would not include any firefighting duties or certifications.

Chief Cathy Rigney said she hopes the new position will attract more candidates. The certified firefighter requirement may have kept some paramedics from applying with the city in the past, she said.

“The word is getting out there,” she said. “I’m getting more calls every day.”

Rigney and Mayor Ed Burtner said there’s a shortage of paramedics on ambulances as hospitals have been allowed to hire paramedics for jobs previously restricted to nurses. Rigney said the University of Kentucky Medical Center currently has 50 paramedics on staff.

Rigney wants to have one paramedic on duty for each 24-hour shift at each of the city’s three fire stations, or three per day. Paramedic staffing is also crucial to maintaining the department’s advanced life support status. Dropping ALS service, Rigney said, is not an option.

Currently, the department is functioning with one paramedic per shift in a chase vehicle, Rigney said. If there is an ALS call, the paramedic will follow the ambulance and make a determination on scene whether the basic life support crew of EMTs can continue with the call, or if the patient needs ALS care.

So far, the situation is working, Rigney said, but is not a long-term solution. The paramedics like the situation because they can make more decisions, but at the same time it’s stretching resources further, she said.

“We’re scrambling some,” Rigney said. “We’re getting it done but it’s not how we can keep doing it.”

EMTs would still be required to be certified firefighters, she said.

The city recently voted to increase salaries for part-time EMTs and paramedics as patient transfer specialists, again to aid in recruiting.

The first reading was approved unanimously by the commissioners. A second reading will come at a future meeting.

The commissioners also approved a standard employment contract for new firefighters, which would require new firefighters to repay the city for all or part of their training and certification expenses if they leave the department within three years. City officials estimated it costs at least $12,000 to train and certify a new firefighter. City Manager Matt Belcher said there have been instances of new Winchester firefighters who would leave for another department within a month of completing their training.

“We don’t want that to happen any more,” Rigney said.

The contract was approved unanimously.

In other action, the commissioners:

— accepted a preservation award for Depot Street from the Winchester Historic Preservation Commission.

— canceled the regular December meetings and scheduled a special meeting for Dec. 13.

— authorized the disposition of city-owned property on Sixth Street and Muddy Creek Road.

— awarded a contract to Superior Demolition to remove a structure at 107 S. Highland St.

— promoted Winchester Fire-EMS Lt. Scotty Bell to battalion chief.

— hired Jonathan Beam, John Gallagher, Brian Hart, Jonathan Hughes, Andrew Royce and Matthew Van Hauter as firefighter/EMTs at Winchester Fire-EMS.

— hired Jessie Smith and Quinn Wright as firefighter I for Winchester Fire-EMS.

— reclassified James Schnaller from firefighter III/paramedic to firefighter III/EMT.

— hired Darla G. Hamilton and Stevie L. Hamilton as crossing guards.

Contact Fred Petke at fred.petke@winchestersun.com.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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