Nev. fire department to separate paramedic, firefighter roles

Deputy Fire Chief Scott Vivier says hiring eight paramedic ambulance response operators should decrease wait times


Arleigh Rodgers
Las Vegas Sun

HENDERSON, Nev.— The Henderson Fire Department is introducing a new position to its ranks that officials say will enhance its response time.

The well-awarded department primarily relies on a staff of firefighter-paramedics to carry out its all-hazards services, which includes fire, medical, technical rescue and hazardous material. Firefighter-paramedics — who are cross-trained in both firefighter and paramedic capabilities — take 911 callers to the hospital in one breath and in the other dissolve a blazing fire.

"Our goal is to always have rapid response times," said Deputy Fire Chief Scott Vivier. (Image/Henderson Fire Department)

The new position will separate the paramedic from the firefighter and be called a paramedic ambulance operator, deputy fire chief Scott Vivier said. Rather than covering all aspects of the department, the ambulance operator will not perform fire suppression, technical rescue or hazardous material duties.

Vivier said the position was created to decrease wait times and alleviate the workload on firefighter-paramedics. By eliminating the firefighter role — which requires an Emergency Medical Technician certificate and fire academy training — from the ambulance officer's duties, a larger pool of people can apply for the position. In addition to EMT training, becoming a paramedic requires accredited training courses like at the College of Southern Nevada, the only associate degree in paramedic medicine offered in Southern Nevada.

"Our goal is to always have rapid response times," he said. "In a medical emergency, you can never be fast enough."

The department intends to hire eight ambulance response operators, Vivier said. Hiring one paramedic ambulance operator will take approximately eight months, he said, a significant time-saving move compared to hiring a firefighter-paramedic, which takes 20 months. The extended hiring time accounts for double the training the firefighter-paramedic does before stepping into their role.

The final distinction is their hours: While firefighter-paramedics work overnight shifts, the paramedic ambulance operator will be scheduled during high call times, about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Early recruitment is happening now, Vivier said, with training initiated March 1, 2022, and the worker's start date midway through May.

"In Henderson, we've been doing medicine for a long, long time, and so these will just be another member of our team," he said. "The only difference is that they will just do medicine, and they will go home every night."

Tim Gunderson, a firefighter-paramedic with the Henderson Fire Department, said that 12-hour window keeps his fellow firefighter-paramedics busy. By expanding the number of active members through the paramedic ambulance operator roles, the fire department as a whole can accomplish more throughout the day, he said, including annual training they must undergo.

"We have ambulances that are staffed and there, but they're tied up with other calls," he said. "It will improve everything we do in every way that we do it. Our community citizens will benefit. Our employees will benefit. And I think that the people that come on under this program will also benefit. It's a great thing for everybody."

Outreach efforts for additional first responders are also taking place in the Henderson Police Department, Henderson Police Captain Kirk Moore said. The department seeks local and national candidates for its police, corrections officer and communications operators positions at local community engagements, career fairs, and cultural events.

Moore said it is imperative the department hire more roles in line with the population growth in Henderson, which has expanded from 257,001 residents in 2010 to 320,189 in 2020, according to census data.

"To develop and retain an outstanding and diverse workforce, we must continue to recruit the best and brightest as our city continues to see explosive growth," he said via email. "With that growth, it is important that we maintain and expand our public safety services to ensure that we continue to provide premier services to our community."

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(c)2021 the Las Vegas Sun 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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