Jackson County Fire & Rescue seeing a shortage of paramedics and EMTs

JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Jackson County first responders stay busy on a daily basis.

"We cover the 950+ square miles of the county with five ambulances," said Jackson County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Birge. "In the last two years, we've been over 8,000 calls a year."

Birge inherited a staffing shortage problem when he became Chief in early 2014.

He said it's been a recurring issue since 2003.

"It's hard to hire new people to grow when you're not able to maintain what you have for today," Birge said.

Fire and Rescue is currently down 12 personnel and Birge said pay is a big part of the problem.

He said they've lost valuable employees to other areas.

"We've got some surrounding counties that are experiencing growth and that's great for them," Birge said. "That's not so good for us trying to retain employees."

Birge has been working closely with Jackson County Administrator Ernie Padgett to address the shortage.

Padgett said through talking with different groups, he's learned that pay might not be the only factor. He said some employees have questioned leadership.

"It's my job to meet with enough employees, pay enough attention, to where as county administrator, I can get my arms around that and figure out what needs to be done and to what extent does it need to be done to correct the situation," Padgett said.

Both Birge and Padgett agree that the long hours and low pay have had an effect on morale.

"Stress is compounded when you've got a few folks trying to do the work of several," Birge said.

Chief Birge said the biggest need is for EMTs and paramedics.

He has three EMT interviews later on this week, but no paramedic applicants.