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Too few paramedics in Decatur, but fire department leaders have a plan

Decatur Fire Station number five's main fire truck is on its last leg.
Decatur Fire Station number five's main fire truck is on its last leg.(WAFF)
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 3:04 PM CDT
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published February 1, 2021 at 10:38 PM CST - Updated March 2 at 10:53 AM on waff.com)

DECATUR, Ala. (Great Health Divide) - Decatur Fire and Rescue leaders are speaking out about a paramedic shortage they are facing, and how they are hoping to prevent it from impacting their response to emergencies.

Decatur Fire and Rescue Chief Tracy Thornton understands the type of person it takes to be a paramedic. A type of person like Lieutenant Paramedic Jimmy Prickett who is described by his fellow firefighters as selfless.

“My father passed away when I was 17-years-old,” Lieutenant Prickett said. “I envied the paramedics that came and worked on him. It was so courageous what they do and even though it didn’t work out they were still superheroes.”

Now the Decatur Fire Department is faced with a big challenge, a shortage of paramedics like Lieutenant Paramedic Prickett.

“The number of paramedics we have keeps going down and it’s been doing that for many years and we haven’t really done anything to try to address it,” Chief Thornton said.

This problem is not only a city one, but a national one according to Chief Thornton.

With many potential paramedics ditching the two-and-a-half year commitment to become certified for a career that makes more money, Chief Thornton said they have to do something.

“Over the next three years we could be losing 12-13 paramedics in our department to retirement,” Chief Thornton said.

If the department keeps losing paramedics and not replacing them, that means some calls the fire department responds to might not have a paramedic on board.

“Decatur is one of the few, if not the only city that does not have an incentive to work as a paramedic. It looks like we are one of the only ones In the state that doesn’t,” Chief Thornton said.

However, Chief Thornton said they have a plan. He hopes to create an incentive pay as well as give paramedics more time off.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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