Getting Answers: emergency services shortages

Getting Answers: emergency services shortages
Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT
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(WGGB/WSHM) - Firefighter shortages have impacted departments locally as one department is finding itself short-staffed and in response to a shortage they said they are seeing in ambulance services, a paramedic and EMT received their state license to start their own private ambulance service serving western Massachusetts.

“We’re down in our staff,” said Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson.

Nelson worries that by the end of 2022, he may be down five firefighters, bringing the number of firefighters in Amherst to 40. He told Western Mass News that he has concerns about the morale of his staff working overtime and relying more on mutual aid taking away services from neighboring towns.

“We just hired four, but we have two more openings here and we’re going to have, one, two, three…by the end of the calendar year, we’re going to probably have three more,” Nelson added.

With calls going up, it presents more challenges for his department.

In 2020, which was part of the pandemic, EMS received under 3,700 calls. That number dropped to 3,200 calls in 2021, but in 2022, it jumped up again to nearly 3,900 calls.

Calls to Amherst Fire followed a similar trend. In 2020, there were more than 1,700 calls. In 2021, just under 1,900 calls and in 2022, there were more than 2,000 calls.

Nelson said recruiting also proves difficult.

“It’s tough ‘cause you know we’re not the only game in town…If you are a paramedic, you really can pick and choose where you want to go…We’re all dipping into the same pool,” Nelson explained.

Recruitment is also an issue facing Pavel Gut, owner of a new ambulance service serving Hampden and Hampshire Counties.

“No one wants to work as an EMT when you can make more as a fry cook at a local gas station,” said Gut, co-owner of Chapin Ambulance.

Gut said it is difficult to offer competitive pay.

“As a company owner, it is tough to pay your employees when you are getting very little reimbursement from Medicare and MassHealth,” Gut explained.

Gut has been in emergency services for nearly nine years. He’s worked in 911 and the transfer side, as well as the fire department and private EMS service. He was also an operations manager for an ambulance service. Gut and his brother, Alexander Gut, received their ambulance license to operate two ambulances on May 2, the Department of Health told Western Mass News.

“We wanted to add another resource for these communities that we can offer an ambulance,” Gut added.

Pavel has seen an increase in the need for non-emergency transports.

“With the increase in call volume for 911, it is drastically reducing transports for the skilled nursing facilities,” Gut noted.

He hopes his ambulance service can fill that gap.

“Primarily, we’re going to try to service all the nursing homes in the area, along with dialysis centers and hospitals if they need us and any mutual aid services,” Gut said.

He also is helping two local ambulance services with mutual aid calls.

“No matter how good you’re staffed or how much people you have, you can’t go to every single call. It’s just not physically possible and that’s where we come in,” Gut said.

He has seven EMTs and hopes to recruit more to chapin. Gut said he has always dreamed of owning his own ambulance service.

“We hope every patient we encounter, we treat them like our family because if someone transports my family member, I want them to be treated the same way I would treat other patients,” Gut added.

Chapin Ambulance is the first ambulance in the state to deploy a meds unit on one of its ambulances using electrostatic technology, which assists with the disinfection of the rear of an ambulance.