Up to speed: CES training recruits

Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A rash of recent retirements has tipped the ratio between experienced and new employees at Central Emergency Services.

“Probably better than 50 percent of our work force has been with us less than five years,” said CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale.

Most of the retirements have occurred within the last five years, said CES Assistant Chief Gordon Orth.

“The biggest thing is getting everyone up to speed with the department,” he said, referring to the challenges of having to train many new hires in a short period of time.

“It’s just a matter of them being with the department for a while and learning how we operate,” he said.

CES differs from most emergency departments, in that it covers a large geographical area, 2,200 square miles. Consequently, CES transportation times tend to be longer and require a higher level of care.

The rash of recent retirements is due, in part, to the way CES was created.

CES grew in chunks as fire and emergency services from around the area joined to work together. The Soldotna Fire Department, Ridgeway Fire Service, the Central Peninsula EMS and the Sterling and Kalifornsky Beach fire stations now are all part of CES.

As a result, instead of gradually hiring new employees, CES absorbed employees in groups, often hired and due to retire at about the same time.

Approximately six paramedics originally hired by Central Peninsula EMS, for example, left CES at nearly the same time.

“Their time frame has come due so they’re all retired,” Orth said.

The loss of so many paramedics in a short period of time has compounded the already difficult task of hiring duty personal, employees who staff CES 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It’s difficult to attract applicants to CES because many paramedics are drawn to larger cities where departments pay higher wages and receive more calls, Orth said.

“They tend to look for someplace active and busy,” he said.

A recent decision by the CES board, however, has made it easier to hire new duty personal.

The CES board changed hiring rules requiring all new hires from approximately 1994 until this year to be paramedic firefighters, Orth said. Now CES must employ at least 15 paramedic firefighters, but can employ advanced-level EMTs for remaining duty personal positions.

Becoming an advanced-level EMT requires more than 350 hours of classroom training and three years of experience as lower-level EMT, but paramedics still are preferred, Orth said

“There’s just a lot more training in paramedic school,” he said.

On the other hand, the new hiring rules open the pool of applicants from which CES can choose and makes it easier to hire locals, he said.

In addition, Orth said he expects CES’s applicant pool to improve as students graduate from Kenai Peninsula College’s new paramedic program.

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