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Conn. FD drops experience requirement to increase number of EMS applicants

6 Mar 2024 3:23 PM | Matt Zavadsky (Administrator)

Another example of the challenging times for communities and their EMS systems, regardless of provider type, trying and combat the workforce shortage.

The most recent national EMS media tracker has documented over 1,800 local and national news reports about EMS since 2021, with 74% of the reports citing the EMS staffing and economic crisis.


Conn. FD drops experience requirement to increase number of EMS applicants

Wallingford officials removed the one-year experience requirement hoping it will lead to an increase in applicants

March 06, 2024


WALLINGFORD, Conn. — The fire department has reduced its work experience requirements for EMS workers in response to an ongoing employee shortage.

Previously requiring at least a year of experience, the town opted to change its qualifications in response to a sharp reduction in applications.

The guidelines for EMS personnel were revised four years ago, when the department was looking to fill 16 positions, and had 38 people apply. But in 2023, the town received only two applicants for open positions during the year. The department currently has three EMT vacancies, as three members who were previously EMTs were hired as firefighters.

Two of those members left for other departments.

According to Human Resources Director James Hutt, he and Fire Chief Joseph Czentnar had discussions between themselves and with Mayor Vincent Cervoni and determined that the one-year experience requirement wasn’t necessary.

“To meet the needs, the chief and I met, we discussed it with the mayor, the chief was confident that the one-year experience requirement was not necessary,” Hutt said.

This is part of an ongoing employee shortage across the fire department. Czentnar said recently that the department had five vacant full-time positions due to long-term injuries firefighters have sustained while on duty. As a result, many existing full-time members have had to put in more overtime to cover their shifts.

The department has undertaken several initiatives to try to bolster its numbers and increase awareness in the community about the need for volunteers and full-time positions. In recent years they’ve been more active at approaching students at job fairs and have even opened an Instagram account to advertise openings.

“We’re finding the pool of candidates for EMTs and paramedics is very small, and we’re competing statewide from a small pool of candidates,” said Czentnar. “EMS in the state of Connecticut and regionally is an impending failure. There’s a lack of people that want to get into public safety, and typically emergency services. We’re having a difficult time recruiting firefighters, paramedics, EMTs.”

Councilor Craig Fishbein questioned the decision to reduce the experience requirement to bolster the numbers when the lack of applicants could be attributed to other factors.

“When this division was started it needed to be stood up very quickly, and we needed experienced people to come in and a one-year minimum was determined to be the minimum criteria for it at that time,” Czentnar said in response at the meeting. “Since then we’ve implemented a field training evaluation program throughout the department where we have certified field training instructors and those people would go through an orientation with the new folks that come in. This brings it in line with all our other job descriptions.”

There was no minimum one-year requirement for any other position in the fire department.

Despite the decrease in experience, due to contractual agreements, the pay for the EMT positions isn’t being changed — with an average salary of $78,000. EMTs would go through an orientation and training period where they accompany an existing team, and after an evaluation will be added to the rotating schedule once they’re deemed ready for duty. The training takes around four weeks.

Base salary without overtime, according to the chief, is in the $40,000 range, which is lower compared to other towns. The distinction, said Czentnar, is most other EMT agencies are private and for-profit — so while they will pay more, he said their department offers better working conditions and better work environment working with the municipality.

Democratic Town Councilor Jesse Reynolds expressed concern about the amount of base pay without overtime, stating that given the current state of the market people who wanted to do EMT work wouldn’t be able to afford to live in town on that salary.

“That’s something we should consider if we want people to work here, and live here, and want to stay here they have to be able to afford that. I’d like to hear more about what we could do in the future to improve that situation,” Reynolds said. Czentnar said that they were currently developing plans in the future to react competitively to the market.

“I support this. I see this as a necessary reaction to the supply and demand of the market for staff,” added Town Councilor Tom Laffin.

The motion was approved following a unanimous vote of the Town Council.

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