Paramedic Program Succeeds In County

The first paramedic course to be taught in Chautauqua County in more than a decade is on track to produce well over a dozen much-needed first responders.

The class, offered at the Southwestern EMS Training Center in Jamestown, has reached the halfway mark of the nearly 12-month-long program. Once completed this August, officials hope 16 students will be ready to offer advanced life support for the county – a service always in high demand.

“I think we’re absolutely right where we want to be in the class,” said Phil Wilson, EMS operations manager, inside the city’s training center.

The joint paramedic program is organized through EMSTAR, Arnot Health and Alstar Ambulance.

Wilson said the renovated training center on Third Street can hold up to 24 students in a class. The year long intensive program, which includes rotations inside an ambulance and hospital, may be a good option for those looking for a new career path.

“We need people to know that we’re here,” Wilson said. “Being a paramedic is a good-paying job, and the jobs are available. People just don’t know about them.”

Considering the plunge into the world of emergency medical services? Consider this: The average salary of a paramedic working for Alstar Ambulance, according to David Thomas, WCA Services executive director, is approximately $32,000 a year – almost $10,000 more per capita than the median income in Chautauqua County, according to data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau.

“This program is mutually beneficial,” Thomas said, noting Alstar will look to the classes to find paramedics to fill its ambulances. “We’re talking about a good-paying job with benefits.”

Paramedics typically earn $15 to $16 an hour, depending on experience, Thomas said.

Not surprisingly, many students in the class currently are Alstar employees, most of whom are looking to increase their certification level and pay scale. The class also features two volunteer emergency medical technicians affiliated through a fire department.

To be eligible for the class, potential students need to have their EMT basic course completed; Jamestown Community College currently offers the four-month vocational training.

“People want to help, and this is the training to do it,” Wilson said of the paramedic program. “We’re hoping things go well so we can hold another class.”

And if New York state gives its approval, paramedic classes in Jamestown may become a yearly offering. Good thing, too, Thomas said, considering by 2016 the need for paramedics is expected to grow by 34 percent.

“The need will always be there,” he said, noting Alstar is expecting a need for 25 to 30 employees of any certification level by next year.