Retirements and high turnover have forced the Rapid City Department of Fire & Emergency Services to cast a nationwide search for more paramedic candidates.
Chief Mike Maltaverne said the department will use its Web presence on sites such as Facebook and YouTube to attract new young talent to the area.
"It is a much more transient work force than it used to be," Maltaverne said. "There isn't a real deep pool of firefighter paramedics in Western South Dakota."
Maltaverne attributed the lack of candidates to the dynamic career paths of paramedics, who now have a much higher reliance on the medical emergency portion of their jobs.
"We do many more medical calls than fire calls," he said. "We see a lot of younger work force stop here for a few years, then move home or to a bigger community."
The department employs 135 people with 34 paramedics. Maltaverne hopes next spring's crop of applicants will increase that number to more than 40.
Each paramedic is on duty for 24 hours, and then has 48 hours off.
"Due to call volume, our four ambulances are very busy, and on a typical day can do anywhere from 10 to15 calls," Maltaverne said. "We need to keep our staffing optimal to ensure the employees on ambulances don't get too fatigued."
John Niehaus, a paramedic who was recently promoted to assistant fire chief, said the department has continued to work toward the correct balance of firefighters to paramedics since taking over emergency medical services responsibilities in 2003.
"We have run almost 13,000 calls a year. Out of that, you're dividing up the EMS calls by the few paramedics," Niehaus said. "It's a national problem that we've known about: Paramedics burn out because of high call volumes. Delivering a baby is just as stressful as going to a shooting victim."
Each spring, the department hosts written and physical testing for new paramedic candidates but has been dissatisfied with local resources. Maltaverne said he would like to see 30 applicants apply for open positions in the spring.
Individuals interested in becoming paramedics can complete a two-year associate degree program with Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City.
The department is looking to augment its partnership with WDTI in the coming year to enable fire department employees to receive a technical paramedic certification.
WDTI associate vice president Patsy Schmidt said she hopes the program can be up and running in 2011.
"Whenever an employer is interested in investing in their employees, it's a win for them, the employee, us and the community," she said, praising the department that has already been instrumental in the school's fire science program.
Contact Nick Penzenstadler at 394-8415 or email@example.com