TRAA responds to county fire officials, update on paramedic shortage

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 5:54 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - Three Rivers Ambulance Authority is still struggling with a paramedic shortage and leaders with the Fort Wayne and county fire departments have expressed their own burnout from the problem as well.

Three Rivers Ambulance Authority, or TRAA, Executive Director Joel Benz says a lot has changed since he took over the authority. He says he believes a lot of progress has been made and paramedics are going to begin feeling relief within the next 2-4 months.

“We’re on the path and we are going to get there. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “One of the first things I said when I came in, I said, lets address workforce culture. There really has been a whole change of leadership from top to bottom.”

However, leaders from the Allen County Fire Chiefs Association are questioning that progress. The firefighters have been helping answer calls that TRAA paramedics can’t make. They sent a letter to the city saying they feel like a “permanent band-aid” and that “it’s gone far beyond mutual aid”.

“I don’t think they should be in that position, they should have never gotten in this position. But we are now dependent on them. And we are very grateful for that,” Benz said. “We have worked really hard to try to not make this a permanent band-aid. I really think we are about 2-4 months away from a resolution.”

The letter lays out a point-by-point list of concerns which stem from the overflow of calls that TRAA is unable to accommodate. The concerns include:

  • County ambulances being called away from areas they are supposed to be serving
  • Added stress on crews -- both physically and mentally
  • Delayed responses

The letter notes that the affected public agencies “have been subsidizing the TRAA EMS system for well over a year and all of our residents and staff deserve better.”

Benz says the county fire departments respond on average about 5 times a day. He says he read the letter, and he knows it’s been difficult for them. He says he’s not asking for anything more, just to continue helping them when they can.

“I think that the fire department has made their position clear,” he said. “My responsibility is to not worry about the fire department and what they can or cannot do . My job is to worry about TRAA.”

So what’s their staffing situation right now? Benz says they are operating with 27 EMTs and 18 paramedics full time. That crew is set to grow though as more students finish their training. He says they have 21 EMTs and 3 paramedics in their “Earn to Learn” program. He says those new hires will give some relief, it just takes time to get qualified care.

“If you’re looking at who’s really suffering here, it’s the medics of Fort Wayne and TRAA who have not been complaining,” Benz said. “They’ve been coming to work everyday and continuing to soldier through it.”

The letter from the Allen County Fire Chiefs Association was sent to Councilman Russ Jehl. He responded with a request to Fort Wayne Fire Department Chief Eric Lahey who says they are doing all they can to help out.

Stay with us on this developing story.

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