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EMT Shortage

LINN COUNTY (CBS 2/FOX 28) - You hope you never have to see them, but when they arrive, you're grateful that they're there.

We're talking about emergency medical technicians. A new report from the Des Moines Register shows there may not be enough of them in Iowa.

The concern isn't so much for bigger cities like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, but rather for those smaller, more rural towns. 29 of Iowa counties, many of them rural, have one EMT or less.

Less EMT's mean longer wait times for help.   

For EMT's like Chelsey Holten, you never know what's waiting beyond those doors at the ambulance station

It could be anything, Holten says. You could get dispatched to something and it can be totally different.

But it's a job that she loves - a love that started when she was a teen.

I actually used to volunteer out in Coggon for a while before I moved back out to Cedar Rapids.

Many rural areas depend on that volunteer effort to assist in supplementing their efforts and shouldering  the load-  which is getting heavy to bear.

It's getting harder and harder to find volunteers, harder and harder to keep volunteers, says Keith Rippy, CEO of Area Ambulance Service.

In fact, the Des Moines Register report says 11 departments statewide are down to 1 EMT. The report calls Iowa's Emergency Medical System 'broken'. They report system that is difficult to navigate - financially, legally, and physically.

There's a lot of training that goes on that requires a tremendous time commitment from folks, Rippy says. It's just harder and harder to get people that are willing to make that significant time commitment.

Rippy says Linn County is in good shape, despite an average 11.4 minute response time - a number that falls in the upper range within the state.

That number is skewed, because you have several different services in Linn County.

For instance, numbers show Area Ambulance Service responds to 96 percent of their calls in 9 minutes or less.

The question remains - how do we fix the overall system?

Rippy says it may start with the volunteers. He says the state may have to step in and subsidize smaller departments, to help pay for these volunteers who are asked to do so much.

Holten says there could be a money incentive to attract volunteers, but she says the better route is recruiting and education.

I truly think that if you love it, youll just do it.
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