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There is an old saying, "Only wet babies like change." Well, change is coming soon to the fire service and it has the appearance of a new paramedic curriculum. But is this a good thing for the fire service? It all depends on your perspective.
On one side of the coin, you have those who say it is time to push the profession forward and obtain the pay and respect which they feel is lacking. Additionally, they feel paramedics need to be more educated, because the demands of the profession are greater. On the flip side of the coin, you have those who are concerned that the new expanded curriculum, along with its associated cost, will make it difficult for individuals wanting to become paramedics or fire departments to run paramedic programs. Based on this theory, the new curriculum will cause a paramedic shortage in an already tight paramedic labor market.
Some fire departments and areas of the country are already experiencing shortages of paramedics. This past summer, a police officer who is the trustee of the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union issued a press release declaring the fire department was short paramedics and a crisis was close at hand. Although the officer's intentions and actions were clearly calculated as part of his strategy to try to raise the pay of his police officers, since there is pay parity between police and fire in Dallas, it still highlighted the issue of a paramedic shortage in Dallas.
Dallas fire officials said the patrolman is wrong since at the time of the officer's press release, the department was ready to graduate a class of 37 new paramedic/firefighters. The Dallas Fire Department operates a 16-month academy that trains personnel to become paramedics and firefighters. Dallas officials are also quick to point out that there is no crisis, since overtime is used to fill any shortages that may occur.
Another large fire department that is experiencing paramedic shortages is the Los Angeles Fire Department. In a story in the Los Angeles Daily News this past July, the LAFD acknowledged that it had to close engine houses daily because of paramedic shortages. However, it pointed out that the closures are done in such a way that no section of the city is without coverage. At the time the newspaper article appeared, the LAFD was short a minimum of 150 paramedics, or approximately 25% of the entire paramedic workforce.
Dallas and Los Angeles, however, are not the only places experiencing paramedic shortages. Reports abound from both coasts as well as from the south and north sections of the country.
With all these paramedic shortages, now comes the new paramedic curriculum. It all started in 1990, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Consensus Workshop on Emergency Services Training Programs made recommendations for training. As a result of those recommendations, the rollout of the EMT-B curriculum occurred in 1994, the first responder curriculum in 1995 and the EMT-P curriculum in 1998.
Now, many states are poised to develop their own standards based on the new curriculum. In essence, state licensing and training programs will attempt to follow the standard of care established by the new national standard curriculum.
The new paramedic curriculum is broken down into four main components: didactic instruction, skills laboratory, clinical education and field internship.
Within the new curriculum it is assumed that any student entering a paramedic program is competent in English and math. The new standard recommends testing students' English and math competency levels before they enter the program, since those who have traditionally failed paramedic programs were deficient in one or both of these areas. If a student is deficient, the program should provide individual tutoring, thus increasing the course time.