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Critical shortage of first responders in Michigan affecting response times, patient care

Detroit Fire Department generic
Posted at 8:29 AM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 08:29:47-04

(WXYZ) — There is a critical shortage of first responders in Michigan, just one of many businesses impacted by the worker shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finding people to work on Michigan's frontlines is harder than it has ever been, according to veterans in the emergency service industry.

Right now, there are more than 1,000 open EMT AND paramedic positions across the state. Fire departments aren't getting enough applications to meet demand, the and picture is grim. Officials say it's affecting response times and patient care.

After more than 30 years in the fire service industry, John Lyman hung up his helmet for a communications role at the Rochester Hills Fire Department. His sideline position and experience give him a bird's eye view of Oakland County's entire emergency response operation.

"When I was hired in the 80s, we had 300 people apply for a couple of positions," he said. "Well now, we have many positions open across the county and we are getting trickled in applications."

Rochester Hills used to only hire firefighters who doubled as paramedics, but finding men and women with that kind of training is a huge challenge in 2021.

"We are hiring people as non-paramedics EMTs and then sending them to paramedic school to get their training that way," Lyman said.

Ron Slagell, the president and CEO of Huron Valley Ambulance, said the EMS system is near collapse.

For more than 20 years, companies like his have accepted fixed funding through Medicaid and Medicare, but neither come close to covering the cost of operation.

"The challenge is unlike other businesses, we can't just raise our rates to recoup more money to pay our employees," he said. "Our rates are pretty much fixed by all the payors that provide into the system."

According to, Detroit paramedics earn an average of $39,000 per year. Their shifts can range anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.

'When they come to me and say, 'I am leaving it's hard,' I can't blame them, you know I can't," Dr. Christine Brent, the director of the University of Michigan EMS Fellowship Program, said.

She said over the course of the pandemic, paramedics have been forced to observe constant death and many of them simply hit a breaking point.

"Unless we do something to address this shortage, it's going to come to a point that when we call 911 and no one is coming, or no one is coming for an hour," Brent said. "An hour is way too late for most of the stuff we deal with."

When it comes to first responders, it's life and death.

"That can be a life and death effect here," Lyman added. "Staffing affects response times, it affects patient care, it affects firefighting."