City considering employment agreement for paramedics after city-funded training

A partnership between Great Falls Fire Rescue and Great Falls College-MSU has created a training program to meet GFFR’s desire for more paramedics.

Eight city firefighters were selected for the program, which started Jan. 2 and the city is paying the $10,000 per student for the training program.

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There was more internal interest in the program than the city could fund, so GFFR conducted interviews to select the first eight firefighters to participate in the program.

On Tuesday, staff is asking the City Commission to approve an agreement with the local firefighter union that the paramedic students will sign a commitment letter to stay with GFFR for at least 60 months after completing the program, or reimburse the city for a portion of the cost.

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After hearing about the city’s need for paramedics, the college worked to create a condensed accredited program that will prepared students for the exam from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

When the city first began advanced life support service in 2000, it had five paramedics and through the Carrico ALS Trust, the department sent eight firefighters to complete the college’s paramedic program, making it the first in the state to do so, according to the department history sheet. At the time, the city offered three separate condensed courses, according to GFFR Chief Steve Hester’s staff report.

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Under the proposed agreement, if a firefighter leaves after 12 months of service after completing the paramedic program, the employee would owe the city $8,000; after 24 months, it would $6,000; after 36 months it would be $4,000 and after 48 months of service, the employee would owe $2,000 back to the city.

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The repayment obligations would not apply if the employee is medically retired as a result of a line of duty cause; or the employee successfully appeals to the GFFR chief and city manager and obtains a waiver based on unforeseen hardships, according to the proposed agreement.

“The amount due to the employer under the terms of this agreement is intended to recoup employer’s loss as a result of the premature termination of the employee’s employment and takes into account the derived benefit to the employer. This agreement is not intended to act as a penalty on the employee upon termination of his employment,” according to the agreement.

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Members of the local firefighter union, IAFF Local 8, voted to accept the agreement, according to the city.

If all eight become paramedics, GFFR will have met its strategic goal of having 24 paramedics. That will allow them to have one per shift per station and some left over to cover vacations, sick days, injuries and any other issues.

GFFR currently have 16 and recently amended their labor contract so battalion chiefs can also serve as paramedics when necessary.