First responder shortage taking a toll on current workers

Reporter: Andrea Guerrero Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
lehigh acres fire rescue
Credit: WINK News

There is a national shortage of paramedics, and Southwest Florida is included in that.

Lehigh Acres Fire Rescue says it is getting thousands of more calls this year than last year. And, now, Lee County EMS is hiring 21 new medics.

But, this prolonged shortage has already begun to take its toll mentally and physically on our first responders.

Firefighter and paramedic Christopher Cazanas starts every shift at 8 a.m. But, he’s been coming in earlier to make sure that everything for his day is ready to go. Friday morning, by 7:50 a.m., calls had already begun to come in.

The timing of these calls isn’t a surprise considering each fire station in Lehigh Acres, on average, now runs 20 calls per 24-hour shift.

“It’s causing a lot of overtime with the high demand in call volume. So we want to keep our units up and running 24 hours. We want to keep them all up as much as possible. Especially with all these medical calls that have been inflating these days,” Cazanas said.

The increase in calls also comes at the same time as a national shortage of cross-trained paramedics. Lehigh Acres Fire Rescue has seen a 21% call increase within the last year. For first responders, this means shifts can gradually become more exhausting.

“It’s more of a challenge, so psychologically and physically it’s been a lot more demanding on us,” said Cazanas. To combat this issue, Leigh Fire has put several firefighters through paramedic school.

Lee County has put its money from the American Rescue Plan to good use at the county level. Brian Hamman is a Lee County Commissioner. “By doing this and bringing in 21 people, it gives our existing team the time they deserve, the time off they’ve been working for,” said Hamman.

“It helps us be prepared for a next wave, but it also helps prepare for the growth that’s coming to our county,” Hamman said.

“Regardless of the call volume and the stress levels of having this job, I’m so very happy to be here, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” said Cazanas.

For first responders, it’s all about being there for the community.

Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue currently has 14 firefighter EMTs in its paramedic school. If you’d like to apply for one of the paramedic positions with Lehigh Acres, you can follow this link.

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