MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Choosing what you want to be when you grow up, today young people may be picking paramedics less and less. Nationwide they’re now harder to come by, and that includes here in Utah. ABC4 News examines what Utah’s largest fire agency is doing keep them on the job, in this edition of Behind the Badge.  

When roughly 85% of much of Salt Lake County’s emergency fire calls are medical, firefighters tell Reporter Brian Carlson there’s a big need for paramedics and EMTs. That need becomes even greater when it’s harder to get people to take the job.

The number of people applying to be paramedics isn’t what it used to be.

“It’s down from where it was probably 20 years ago, there’s fewer applicants now,” said Unified Fire Authority‘s Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Rob Ayres.

Ayres said Unified Fire Authority, which covers Salt Lake County and parts of Utah county, is feeling the same pinch playing out at firehouses across the country – fewer people want to become paramedics or stay one once they take the job.

“I would say every year we’re probably cycling through 10-15, maybe 20 paramedics a year,” said Ayers.  

A report published last month with Pew Charitable Trusts finds “last year, the turnover rate for full-time emergency medical technicians, known as EMTs, was 36%, and for full-time paramedics, it’s 27%.” Ayers can only speak to what they’re seeing with Unified Fire but said part of the problem is lack of pay and employee burnout.

“It’s a pretty demanding job physically, it’s a demanding job emotionally, it’s a very demanding job, and a lot of times that takes a toll on people,” said Ayers.

That’s exactly what happened to Unified Fire Public Information Officer Ryan Love.

“Previously to me taking on this position I worked at a fairly busy firehouse at the time we were running about 15-20 calls per round, that’s about a 48-hour shift, and with that sleep was minimal,” said Love

Love said the lack of sleep he got while at the firehouse would mean he had to catch up on sleep at home. Sometimes, catching up on sleep at home wouldn’t work out though as Love admitted having multiple children and a pregnant wife kept him busy.

What helped Love to stay on the job was transferring to a slower station and then a different position. 

That ability to offer paramedics a wide selection of stations to choose from, with 24 firehouses in 15 cities, is something Unified Fire believes gives them a unique solution to help paramedics from feeling wiped from work.

“If you get sick and tired of that or you just want a change you can go to a different station with a different crew, respond on maybe different types of calls,” said Ayers.

It’s not the only thing Unified Fire is doing to address turnover issues. They require a paramedic on every emergency vehicle so one paramedic doesn’t shoulder all the load. They’re making retirement more flexible for new recruits, and more and more, Unified is paying their way through paramedic school, inspiring some to take the job.  

“In 2020, I think we had four people who went to paramedic school that year, and this year we had 10, and next year we’re anticipating 13,” said Ayers.

Unified Fire hopes incentives like these will help them manage the challenging turnover rate. So, the next time paramedics rush out the door, they still come back.

When Carlson asked Unified Fire – Is there any reason for public concern? They said they’re making sure every shift is staffed with enough paramedics to handle the calls. They also said that even though more paramedics are getting burned out earlier in the job, those that choose to stay stick around for long careers.