Chief Scott Birge addressed the board Tuesday and requested to address the board in reference to a critical need the county Fire – Rescue was in at this time. Birge said, “This memo is to formally advise you that our Paramedic staffing is reaching critical shortage. At no time since I have been Chief have we enjoyed full staffing for all positions in this department. Paramedic and EMT positions have fluctuated as other departments in the panhandle have hired offering more money per hour and less likelihood of mandatory staffing. We entered fall 2017 with only four open paramedic slots spread across the three shifts. Since that time, one paramedic resigned to move out of state, one is on maternity leave until February or March 2018, one member injured an arm in a vehicle accident (off-duty) with unknown time of being out from her injuries. I am now in receipt of a request from one of our medics to be placed on auxiliary list so he can make more money to support his family. We need 15 medics to operate this department and we are now down to 13. Members are already working all of the overtime they can to over the open positions and with the last two injuries, one to two persons per shift are being mandatory for coverage. We have no applications for paramedic for full or auxiliary. We need input on how to attract more applicants and retain the personnel we have.”
Birge continued, “I am here imploring that you help with situation.” Commissioner Jim Peacock asked what Birge was doing to attract people to his department. Birge said, “Other than advertising, we offer our fire fighters the opportunity to go to EMT school and we have two in that program right now but they will not graduate until the summer. We make every attempt to grow our own. We invest in our folks. This is only done for presently employed with Jackson County.” Peacock inquired if he had any suggestions. Birge said anything he could offer would come down to pay. Birge said that Bay County paid auxiliary help $12 an hour and Jackson paid full time $11.80 an hour. He stated that Jackson’s auxiliary list was paid less than that.
Birge said they presently have five ambulances on the road every day. He said, “We desperately need more paramedics to be able to keep those five ambulances on the road every day.”
Former Jackson County Fire Chief Tony Wesley addressed the board and told them that had a $50 per household assessment would have been generated four years ago, an estimated $1.5 million would be available at this time. He stated this would allow for more revenue to assist with the department’s critical shortage.
The commissioners requested that Birge return to the next meeting with a more complete plan that would address paramedic pay comparable to surrounding counties. Peacock also requested to look at the assessment that was done several years back.