MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw believes changes in training for first responders could help staffing issues across the state.
State lawmakers heard more testimony at last week’s interim committee meetings about the difficult times some EMS organizations are going through.
Hanshaw said Clay County, his home county, with a population of about 10,000 faces similar circumstances as the Star City EMS in much larger Monongalia County. He said despite vastly different demographics between Monongalia and Clay counties the problems are consistent.
“We have exactly the same kind of staffing and participation issues that you have right here in one of the most economically vibrant parts of our state,” Hanshaw said.
The time required for training and certification, along with cost can turn some people away from the fire service. Working with industry professionals and lawmakers to find new ways to train personnel could help bridge the gap, Hanshaw said.
“That training requirement really doesn’t differ all that between the Big Otter Fire Department that serves my house in Clay County versus the Morgantown paid Fire Department,” Hanshaw said.
Monongalia County Technical Education Center(MTEC) Principal Greg Dausch is using funds from the American Rescue Plan to develop a free training program. He said uniforms, supplies, books, certification testing preparation and certification testing fees are all free to the student.
In about 36 hours after the program was posted, 100 people had signed up to complete the training. The number of people applied was double the capacity of the program, Dausch said.
“So, we had to sift through our applicants and we have determined we will be able to serve 25 in two separate sessions, so 50 overall,” Dausch said.
The 180-hour course is being taught by WVU and Shirley M. Kimble and Associates. Classes are held on the MTEC campus in Morgantown two nights a week and some Saturdays.
Hanshaw also said tailoring training to the specific needs of the community could help streamline the process. Leaders at fire departments throughout the state would have provide training that would be relevant to the types calls received.
“In the rural part of our state our first responders and volunteer fire men and women spend more of their time responding to automobile accidents than they do structure fires,” Hanshaw said. “So, we need to begin thinking about what kind of training requirements and time commitments we’re making our first responders absorb.”
In addition to the MTEC program, American Rescue Plan money is being used to purchase five mobile certification ambulances that will travel the state for training and testing.