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In-Depth: Texas EMS workers 'begging' legislatures for more funding

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Posted at 2:38 PM, Apr 19, 2023

WACO, Texas — When Stuart Carlson left the National Guard and was looking to join another brotherhood, he became an EMT Basic in Central Texas.

"The camaraderie is not 100% the same, but it's there," he said of the experience.

"I got my guys and love doing that and being there. I love helping people, it's just rewarding."

While the job brings many rewards, Carlson said there are also plenty of challenges.

"There's this big demand of 'Oh I want an ambulance, I need an ambulance, but we're not going to pay you.'"

He said being an EMT is a thankless job with low pay and long hours, which makes it hard to recruit and keep up with the growing demand for ambulance workers across the country.

"They're away from their families, working streets and holidays," Carlson said.

"Unfortunately, this is a dangerous job, and I can't pay my bills, but you got to work."

Fellow Veteran and EMT Basic Shanna Cramer is training to become a paramedic at Texas A&M Engineering Extension or their "TEEX" program.

Having already served as an EMT for years, she said she understands the dangers and challenges her role will face, especially when it comes to working with the public.

"In the military, we're the 1% serving the 99% and it's the exact same in EMS," she said.

"We're the 1% serving the 99, we're always going to be the small part of the community where people don't know what we do."

Ambulance workers are often the first medical response in emergencies.

They either treat patients on site or while transporting them to the hospital.

"It can be overwhelming for us in that time, but since we've been trained so well we don't have time to think about it at that moment," Cramer said.

"At that moment, all it is is I need to save this person's life to the best of my ability and get them to the highest level of care after us."

Despite the life-saving nature of their work, they are the only first responders not designated as an essential service in Texas.

Without that designation, these services receive no funding.

"We're losing money," Carlson said. "I think any businessman, they're not going to say, 'Hey! Let's keep doing this business model of we're not making any money, so let's keep rolling this thing'."

With a multi-billion surplus now in the state's budget, he is reaching out to lawmakers for help.

"You see a lot of your police, a lot of your fire departments, they got the nice shiny vehicle," Carlson said.

"They got the nice fire trucks, million-dollar fire trucks. These guys have those designation so they can get federal funding,

"We're begging like hey we need x amount of money."

He said the change would be significant for EMS workers and help fill the overwhelming demand across the state and country.

A study by the American Ambulance Association shows roughly a third of EMTs quit their jobs in the last two years, which has left programs like TEEX scrambling to help fill those roles.

TEEX trains about 150 ambulance workers each year and while that sounds like a lot, instructors say it's just a drop in the bucket as far as the need goes.

They train for both EMT Basic and Paramedic roles.

"We have what's called Disaster City here with us," Instructor Michelle Schwake said.

"It's buildings that are falling down, cars that are overturnedm,"

"We have the ability to provide the students of the full experience of picking a patient up in a disaster situation, packaging them and transporting them."

The staff said it takes a certain type of worker to handle the job's conditions and they try to prepare their students as much as possible.