City considers change to labor agreement to address paramedic shortgage

Great Falls Fire Rescue is continuing to make adjustments to address the ongoing paramedic shortage.

Currently, GFFR has 16 paramedics spread over four shifts and four stations. That doesn’t leave much leeway for vacations, injuries, sick days or any other reason that might take a paramedic off the truck floor.

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In an effort to address some of the realities of responding to medical calls city-wide, city staff have proposed an update to the current collective bargaining agreement with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 8.

The current agreement, which was approved by the City Commission on Aug. 15, 2017, only allows certification pay for paramedics up to the rank of captain.

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GFFR has two battalion chiefs who have maintained the training and certifications to work as paramedics.

Battalion chiefs didn’t typically go on many medical calls, though most of them maintained their paramedic certifications, including Assistant Chief Jeremy Jones, but they lost the incentive pay that went with maintaining those credentials at the lower ranks.

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Since being named assistant chief in February, Jones made some changes in the types of calls battalion chiefs responded to and they were arriving on scene before the ambulance so started functioning as paramedics. Currently, battalion chiefs are going on all cardiac arrests, assaults with weapons of any kind. For the most part, the paramedic battalion chiefs are responding to cover advanced life support calls when other options aren’t available due to the paramedic shortage.

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“They’re getting put in positions where they’re using their paramedic skills,” Jones said.

On Tuesday, City Commissioners will consider an update to the agreement that would grant the certification incentive pay for the two current battalion chiefs with paramedic credentials.

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The proposed change would be applicable from October of 2018 through October 2021, will not become a permanent part of the collective bargaining agreement and will be revisited during future negotiations and no later than July of 2021.

The city has been facing paramedic shortages for some time, and earlier this year, Great Falls Emergency Services notified the city that they were also facing a paramedic shortage. In September, commissioners approved a contract amendment that allowed for GFES to change staffing levels while experiencing what the ambulance contractor said would be a temporary shortage.

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In the meantime, GFFR has also been covering some GFES transports by intercepting ambulances with department paramedics to provide critical patient care.

GFFR is expecting a further shortage within its own ranks since one of the department’s paramedics is preparing to deploy with the Montana National Guard.

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City staff has recommended that commissioner approved the change with an estimated financial impact for each paramedic battalion chief of $3,563 or $7,126 for both, annually.

IAFF Local 8 members already voted to accept the change.