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EMTs urge county not to 'regress' in level of service

Jul 10, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A group of Fremont County emergency medical technicians told commissioners at a meeting July 2 that the ambulance department needs more support to maintain the level of care it provides.

"We need some change," Casey Keierleber said.

Keierleber said he is a training officer and has been working for the emergency medical service for three years. He has been a medic for 11 years, he said.

"We need to progress in our care, not regress as a volunteer agency or an agency which cannot employ those at a level in which they deserve compensation," Keierleber said in a letter to the county board.

Discussions between the commission and ambulance director Lauri Wempen regarding increasing the EMS budget have been ongoing for roughly two months. Wempen has said her department needs to bring part-time employees to full-time positions to compensate for decreasing volunteerism and a rise in the number of calls for ambulances.

The county board heard from the group of EMTs right after discussing the budget with Wempen and receiving a letter of resignation from her.

Certification requirements

EMS soon will face another challenge, Keierleber said.

Many of the county's EMTs are classified as EMT-Intermediate under a National Highway Traffic Administration standard, Keierleber said. That classification is disappearing and being replaced by the EMT-Advanced certification, but the so-called EMT-Advanceds cannot perform the advanced procedures EMT-Intermediates can.

Paramedics are a higher level than both EMT-Advanced and EMT-Intermediate.

"We will be forced to hire more paramedics in order to offer the same level of care," Keierleber said. "If we only go to the advanced, we'll be regressing."

He said the change in the certification would take place over about two years.

According to Keierleber, EMT-Intermediates have more than 500 hours of training before certification and must perform 79 hours of education and 56 practical sessions every two years. Paramedics have a higher level of training and often obtain an associate degree in paramedicine, he said.

"You have to have dedication, integrity and honor to do this job," Keierleber said. "There is a point where we have to provide compensation for this job."

He said the median household income in Wyoming is about $56,000, but the average EMT in the state earns about $15.74 an hour or $32,000 a year. He added EMTs at a lower level than EMT-Intermediate in Fremont County recently made only $16,000 a year, but did not mention their current wage.

At an earlier meeting, Wempen said local full-time medics make about $13 an hour.

Kelley Shaffer said she has worked with county EMS for more than 12 years.

She lauded Wempen and other administrators saying they brought the agency forward, but she agreed the ambulance department needs more support because the volunteer system is not working anymore.

"What we're asking for is some understanding as to what we're about... and to ask for a partnership," she said. "Our agency isn't able to do it on our own anymore."

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said he appreciated hearing from the EMTs.

"What I'm hearing from you is that the volunteer corps is gone," he said.

Thompson said the board has not had a good forum on that issue and addressing it would require more than a "snap motion" from the commission.

"The discussion isn't new, and we have some weighty problems, but let's see if we can fix it," vice chairman Travis Becker said.

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