Fire dept. works to become paramedic training center
Until Aberdeen Fire & Rescue is a fully accredited paramedic education center, a training program is in place for aspiring paramedics
By Kelda Pharris
ABERDEEN, S.D. — Finding people willing to work as emergency responders is getting to be a tough task.
A lack of trained paramedics and emergency medical technicians stresses emergency networks in Aberdeen and surrounding rural areas, said Keith Sharisky with Aberdeen Fire & Rescue. That's why the department is striving to become a paramedic education center that provides new training programs.
Sharisky, a 22-year paramedic, was made the department's director of training a few months ago. It is a new position created for 2018. With the promotion, he was tasked with a long-term goal of getting a paramedic education center established.
On June 20 in his office at the downtown Aberdeen fire station, Sharisky answered a phone call. A woman left her information to register for a new emergency medical technician course. Sharisky saw it as good sign. So far there are eight people who've committed to the course. It's listed in the Presentation Course catalog for the fall semester, though it's not only for college students.
EMT certification is a prerequisite for anyone looking to become a paramedic.
It takes 160 hours of training to be an EMT. A paramedic needs 1,200 additional hours of training, at minimum, according to Sharisky. Depending on where people go to get their training, they can attain a certificate, or an associate or bachelor's degree.
Sharisky said current paramedic programs in the state are not generating enough recruits. That's why Aberdeen Fire & Rescue would like to become an accredited paramedic education center through the Committee on Accreditation of Education Programs for Emergency Medical Services Professions and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
The first group sets requirements and guidelines for accreditation for paramedic education centers.
The second group then reviews results and ultimately approves or denies accreditation.
A goal is to have partnerships with Presentation College and Northern State University. If that works out, it would mean a person could collect college credits while also getting paramedic certification. Those credits could then be put towards a degree. But that's a ways off.
Until Aberdeen Fire & Rescue is fully accredited -- the process takes two years -- a training program is in place for aspiring paramedics.
"My job is to try to get us accredited, and the meantime goal is to get EMTs trained as paramedics. We partnered with the School of Emergency Medical Services (in Sioux Falls). We are becoming a regional training site for them," Sharisky said. "What's going to happen is all paramedic education is online, and instead of going to Sioux Falls to do skills and test them out, I will do that here. And that is open to the public."
The 10-month paramedic program costs between $6,000 and $7,000 and begins in September. Clinic time for the course will be set up at hospitals or critical care clinics in the region, Sharisky said.
In recent years, staff shortages have befallen a number of rural first responder agencies. There are too few firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. That stresses responders, their families and the communities in which they serve, Sharisky said.
"For us it means more overtime, for rural communities it means more stress," Sharisky said.
He used Hecla Volunteer Fire Department as an example.
"For Hecla, when they want to go out of town, they only have two people ... they balance their vacations, they balance their home lives. Those are the stressors," he said.
"In 2015, 22 ambulance services were working under the hardships exemptions," Sharisky said. "What that means is the state has authorized them to use (fewer) qualified people."
Now rural first responder departments are required to have one EMT and either an emergency medical responder or emergency vehicle operator on an ambulance call. An emergency medical responder generally has 60 to 100 hours of training, which includes CPR and basic first aid, Sharisky said. An emergency vehicle operator has been trained in operating an ambulance.
At Aberdeen Fire & Rescue the staff minimums are higher -- one paramedic and one EMT per ambulance. Currently the minimums for on-shift staff numbers are being met, Chief Randy Meister said.
A few months ago, he might've had a different story, but there are new recruits on the payroll and soon they'll be fully certified and implemented into the shift schedule, Meister said.
"Aberdeen Fire & Rescue, everybody is EMT or paramedic, all are certified firefighters and all have multiple disciplines," Sharisky said.
He knows the work isn't for everybody. It can be extremely difficult and outcomes can be very happy or devastating.
"People want to help their community," he said. "The next biggest benefit is self gratification, learning how to take care of your fellow human being. The recruits right now, their benefit is they are getting a full-time job. (One recruit) went from graduating on a Sunday to a $40,000 job on Monday."
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