Town of Beloit adjusts requirements to staff ambulance

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Gina Duwe
Friday, August 2, 2013

TOWN OF BELOIT--A nationwide struggle to fill municipal ambulances has hit the Town of Beloit Fire Department, which recently altered its residency requirements to staff its second daytime ambulance.

All area departments have their struggles, Deputy Chief Gene Wright said, and staffing at his department became more challenging at the start of summer when paid-on-call members took summer jobs to pay for school or stay home with their kids. Plus, he said, there aren't as many third-shift jobs anymore, and there are more double-income households.

“It just was kind of a trickle-down effect,” he said. “(It's) just been kind of a culture change in the station. Before, it was primarily middle-aged people working here with kids old enough to stay home. Now, the generation is either students who need steady jobs in summer to pay for school or young families.”

Full-time staff members fill the department's first ambulance, but the challenge came in finding on-call members to fill the second ambulance from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The department juggled enough with overtime to always have staff for the second ambulance instead of seeking help from surrounding departments, Wright said.

The town board authorized the department to hire up to eight EMT-basic or higher first-responders.

Instead of having to live within 10 miles of the station at Afton and Newark roads, those staffers just have to be within that radius during their scheduled hours. That opens the door to people who live outside the area but work within the 10 miles or have a family member's house within the area where they can stay during the day, Wright said.

He likely has six applicants starting next week, which will get the department through the rest of summer. Beyond then, Wright is looking at other scheduling changes to alleviate problems while the department also prepares to begin staffing its first ambulance next year with paramedic-level responders.

The budget hasn't been affected yet because overtime is built in, he said, but without more changes, “we're definitely going to start seeing some budgetary issues.”

Why more calls?

Wright remembers 20 years ago when the department ran 300 calls a year. Last year, responders went to more than 1,500 calls.

“We're probably increasing 100 calls a year,” he said. “That's a substantial amount.”

Town population grew nearly 9 percent from 7,038 in 2000 to 7,662 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wright attributes the call increase to a number of factors, including several retirement areas in the town and people, for “whatever reason,” using ambulance service for medical emergencies.

“We're transporting a lot of people that in the past may have transported themselves or may not have used the emergency room as physician services,” he said, instead going to their personal doctors.

Those trends are seen nationwide, he said.

People also are sicker, he said, and EMTs are seeing increases in diabetes and cardiac issues.

“The need for health care has increased … we have a lot of sick people and a lot of people we see more than once,” he said.

Last updated: 1:37 pm Friday, August 2, 2013

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