The Saratoga Sun -

SCWEMS sets EMT class

Organization looks to keep ambulance service staffed, efficient


South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services, or SCWEMS, will be holding an EMT class at the beginning of 2018 to train new paramedics to serve their neighbors in the Platte River Valley and northern Carbon County.

The class is scheduled to begin Jan. 2, according to Heidi Sifford, Ambulance Director at SCWEMS. The class will be the only one offered in Carbon County this year, Sifford said.

There is a maximum of 20 students who can take the class this year, Sifford said.

The class will meet for four months, getting together Tuesday and Thursday one week, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the next. The schedule will then rotate in that manner for the duration of the course, with several longer Saturday classes mixed in.

Overall, there are about 148 hours of instruction mandated by the state, Sifford said. In the past, the class was scheduled to take five months which eased the time burden on students, she said. But with recent budgetary issues at the state level, Sifford said this year’s class was being compressed into only four months.

The approximate cost of the class will be about $375 she said. That cost includes all instruction and materials needed to complete the course, Sifford said. The cost also includes the price of the student’s CPR card, drug test and fingerprinting.

The only additional cost that students might have to pay is for vaccinations, she said, adding that hospital staff will determine if a student’s vaccines are sufficiently up-to-date.

While the cost of the class may be a bit expensive for some to bear, students will be reimbursed for their expenses once they become a part of SCWEMS and work past their probationary period, Jeb Steward, the chairman of the SCWEMS joint powers board, said.

The ambulance service relies on volunteers to staff ambulances and, over the past several years, has seen the numbers of volunteers dwindle, Steward said, so reimbursing students for the cost of the class is one way the service hopes to swell the ranks of available volunteers.

Previously, the course was only offered once every several years, Steward said. But due to a lack of volunteers and high turnover rates, SCWEMS has turned to offering the course once per year for the last three.

A recent study by a consulting firm raised questions about the sustainability of a volunteer-based service going into the future, Steward said.

Because of a lack of volunteers, the service has had difficulties staffing ambulances for runs. The town of Medicine Bow doesn’t have any EMTs in town, meaning ambulance calls in those communities may be staffed by volunteers from a town farther away, increasing response time.

“We’ve reached a critical level,” Steward said. “We’re at a point where the future sustainability of the volunteer model is in question.”

According to Steward, the consultant’s report to SCWEMS suggested going from the current model—a volunteer-staffed service with depots in towns scattered about the county—to a two-depot model staffed by professional, paid EMTs who are paid a salary and benefits with 24/7 coverage.

Under that proposed model, the number of ambulance depots would be shrunk. Currently there are five ambulance depots, one apiece in Saratoga, Encampment, Hanna, Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow.

Under the proposed plan, there would only be two depots, one in Saratoga to serve the southern half of SCWEMS’ area, and another in Hanna to cover the north.

Such a model would also be very expensive, Steward said. Neither the professionally-staffed model nor the current volunteer model is self-sustaining, he added.

“We will always need government subsidy,” Steward said.

For now, SCWEMS and the communities across the eastern half of Carbon County that depend on it will continue to depend on the volunteer model, making next year’s EMT class especially important as the agency begins to look toward the future and the changes that may be coming.

Steward hopes the class will fill with the maximum of 20 students, and that most of those will stay with the service, but he said he realizes that being an EMT is not for everyone. It’s also a significant time commitment for volunteers and it can be difficult for them to leave their paid jobs to make an ambulance run.

The service is looking for ways to address those issues, implementing a recognition program for employers who allow volunteer EMTs in their employ the flexibility needed to provide this critical community service. SCWEMS has also implemented a program with the Platte Valley Medical Clinic in Saratoga where the service pays part of an employee’s salary with the promise that employee will be available for ambulance service when needed.

But still, the day may be coming when the volunteer model is abandoned and SCWEMS moves over to a professionally-staffed model.

“But for now, we have to ask how we find the right blend between the volunteer model and other models,” Steward said. “It’s fragile but we still keep plugging along.

“Turnover happens yearly, but we just have to keep medics in the pipeline.”


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