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The Need for EMTs in Washington County with Jackson Fire Chief Aaron Swaney
Episode 5711th October 2022 • Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz • Fuzz Martin
00:00:00 00:14:41

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The need for employees in Washington County, Wisconsin is as great as ever. While we all rely on emergency services like Fire and EMTs to be there when we need them, the area is suffering from a drought of new employees to take over for those retiring. This week, Jackson Fire Chief Aaron Swaney joins me to talk about the need for EMTs in our area, what goes into being an EMT, and how to get started.

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Fuzz Martin 0:09

Hey, where were you last week? Oh, it was on me. I went to my annual guys weekend with some college buddies from UW Whitewater. We had fun. We hung out at a cabin. We're old dads. So we took naps. We did all sorts of dad things. It's funny because when we were, you know, younger we used to when we had our guys weekend, we used to, like, you know, drink a lot and carry on. And now in our 40s, we're talking about things like sleep apnea and colonoscopies. Great times. Actually, they were great times. Plus, I went and saw my daughter Bree and UW La Crosse. It was really an excellent weekend. So I missed getting the show, ready to publish. But you know what, I'm back this week, and we're talking about a serious issue in our community, and that is the lack of emergency medical technicians really, there's a need for EMTs and volunteer firefighters throughout our entire listening area. And since this is a podcast, that entire listening area is the world. Aaron Swaney is the fire chief, service director and emergency manager for the Village of Jackson and he joins me this week to talk about the need for EMTs in our community. What is causing that need and what it takes to become an EMT right here on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz.

Fuzz Martin 1:42

Thanks for coming in chief so let's start with a little background about you. You're the fire chief, service director and emergency manager for the village of Jackson. How long have you been with the village?

Chief Aaron Swaney 1:51

almost seven years now.

Fuzz Martin 1:52

Where are you with this village first or where did you start off?

Chief Aaron Swaney 1:55

No, I actually started out about 29 years ago really in the US military. So okay, started as a firefighter and worked my way through went to civilian life and I was in Oshkosh for a couple of years Chippewa fire district by Eau Claire and and then it was up in Rhinelander for approximately 15 years before I came here.

Fuzz Martin 2:15

Wow. Okay, so now you've been here seven years. What do you like most about working for the village of Jackson.

Chief Aaron Swaney 2:20

It's a great community and you know, all the all the people are friendly. And I think everyone wants the same thing. And it's just a great place to raise your kids and good schools and

Fuzz Martin 2:32

is the village of Jackson Fire Department all volunteer and the EMT services.

Chief Aaron Swaney 2:36

What we are is a combination Fire Department. So we have full time part time and paid on call. You can start out as as a volunteer and then work your way up through the ranks.

Fuzz Martin 2:47

I imagine your roles pretty involved. So what kind of things are you responsible for you have three different titles listed.

Chief Aaron Swaney 2:55

A little bit of everything, but you know, I'm in charge of the budgeting payroll, making sure that our EMS services are running right, making sure that reports are done correctly. And the list can just go on but um, incident commander and no fire just oversee everything that happens in the operation of a fire department.

Fuzz Martin 3:17

What made you decide to get into public safety? Were you were you a firefighter in the military? Was that? How that works? That's correct. Yeah. Okay. So did you choose that or did the military choose that for you?

Chief Aaron Swaney 3:28

Well, it's a little bit of both. I just remember as a kid my, my grandparents had a fire big dairy farm and it burnt down but I just remember my grandpa running in and he was bringing his cattle out over his shoulders and I just thought that was the coolest thing. And then my grandma always said you got to become my EMT so that you can take care of me when I get older. So I mean, it was in the background but one in the military and that was one of my choices. And so I looked into that firefighting EMS as well as search and rescue. And here

Fuzz Martin 4:03

we are today. Here we are. What do you enjoy the most about being the fire chief?

Chief Aaron Swaney 4:09

Well, it just developing from the ground up trying to trying to build a program and and make things better for everyone not just the fire department but the community as well. Anytime you can help somebody that's really what it's about and we pride ourselves on it. I think we have you know 47 People in the fire department and they're all thinking about the same thing wanting to help somebody

Fuzz Martin 4:32

so I suppose as becoming a fire chief, and you know, you go from you know, being the the firefighter and EMT and and I know you're still doing you still go out and your incident commander and I'm sure you get heavily involved but now there's a lot of people management now right?

Chief Aaron Swaney 4:47

That's pretty much all out when you have a lot of people you you're just trying to make it work and as cohesive as possible and make it a better place.

Fuzz Martin 4:58

Yep, certainly and makes Are the community stays safe? And then you guys have the resources you need. Right? Absolutely. Speaking of that, we hear a lot about the struggles employers are having right now trying to find people to work. And these aren't just isolated places like your favorite restaurant or your mechanic shop, public safety and emergency services are experiencing it, too. So what are you seeing right now when trying to hire EMTs?

Chief Aaron Swaney 5:22

Well, I think a lot of people are so busy that we don't have volunteers anymore. You look at our kids in sports, and I'm one of them. I have three kids, and they're involved in everything. So for me to dedicate volunteer hours outside that it's pretty difficult. So we are seeing a major shortage in EMTs. Firefighters just serve as people in general.

Fuzz Martin 5:50

And that's not just in Jackson. Right? And that's not just here in Washington County, either is

Chief Aaron Swaney 5:55

No, it's It's nationwide, it's overseas as well. So they're trying to combat it. But you know, right now, we don't have an answer. It's mainly hiring more part time, full time people to fill these positions. And, you know, there's no daylight in sight at this moment.

Fuzz Martin 6:13

Why do you think that the market is currently this way? Why do you think that shortage is happening?

Chief Aaron Swaney 6:19

I think it goes back to what I just talked about with families. And, you know, there's so many requirements for you to do school wise, or you don't, even churches and you know, clubs are hurting the same way. It's not just the fire service. Everyone's just busy. And it requires a lot of times,

Fuzz Martin 6:42

you can't fight fires or save people virtually.

Chief Aaron Swaney 6:46

That's impossible.

Fuzz Martin 6:49

So what are your current needs for EMTs? Now what what is, if you could snap your fingers in and solve the issue right now? What would that bring for you?

Chief Aaron Swaney 6:56

Well, I don't think it's just EMTs. It's, you know, it's a we're a fire department. So it's EMTs. And firefighters, fire as volunteers, you know, you can get people in, initially, but they can't do the time commitment, which usually requires, we're pretty low. Because we do have quite a few. However, you know, it's roughly 45 to 50 hours a month that you have to require on a schedule, but that's not including your training. Sure. Sure. Lots of training, and every Monday night we do training. So that's kind of some part of the problem is it requires a lot of commitment.

Fuzz Martin 7:36

What does that training look like? If you wanted to become let's say an EMT? Specifically, what, how much training is involved in that? How long does it take to get up to speed?

Chief Aaron Swaney 7:45

So yeah, EMT usually takes about six months to go through. Most people who work a job, then go to school at night, okay, you know, six to 930 ish, for two days a week, it takes about six months to get through, that's just EMT basic on then there's a next level of advance, which we like to try to get you to go through that because you know, they can start IVs. And it's just that, that increase of of care. Also, there is paramedic, which pretty much requires you not to have a job to go to school. Sure. It's all very year and Okay, pretty intense.

Fuzz Martin 8:23

What is for the basic EMT program? Is that through a place like Moraine Park, or where do you guys send your EMT candidates?

Chief Aaron Swaney 8:31

So we have local technical colleges around the area, Moraine Park, WCTC, etc. Milwaukee Area Technical College. So between those three is usually where they go, just availability. And often classes are full or not.

Fuzz Martin 8:47

Certainly in finding time in your schedule, with your work schedule, and those kind of things as well. What is the is there a cost involved to the person who's becoming an EMT? Or is that reimbursed by the department or how does that work?

Chief Aaron Swaney 8:59

So that's one great thing is we don't require you to have your EMT license. You can come in and we'll send you through, you know, just in Jackson, we require you to do a two year commitment. It's a lot of money. Sure if at the village is picking up to send you through school. So that's one benefit is you don't have to have anything it's paid for just need a little bit of time.

Fuzz Martin 9:23

One thing I never quite understood, are our volunteer hours. Unpaid. Is that right? Or is there is there a service

Chief Aaron Swaney 9:30

Every department's a little bit different? We started out as your volunteer intern for one year, and then you get paid as you come in for calls after that.

Fuzz Martin 9:40

Okay. So it's certainly an incentive to come in and be a part of that. What do you need to be qualified to be an EMT? Like personally, is there is there things that you're looking for the right kind of person or how does that work?

Chief Aaron Swaney 9:53

Great personality is, is a big thing and being able to see all different type So things car accidents, you know, he might, you might see blood or you might see a sick person, that's probably the biggest thing is a good personality that can handle that

Fuzz Martin:

type of a good personality with a strong stomach.

Chief Aaron Swaney:

And you have to be able to talk to people and find out what actually is wrong, everything leads down a road. So it's, it's kind of like a detective, you're trying to figure out what's going on and how you can help that person.

Fuzz Martin:

So if somebody wanted to get started and become an EMT, if they're hearing this and they get, you know, and I've always wanted to do it, I want to get started. Whether they're in Jackson, or they're looking at a different community, what is the process typically look like to get started that way?

Chief Aaron Swaney:

Well, for most departments, you you fill out an application and you get interviewed, as background check to make sure that you're able to become an EMT, you're going into people's homes, and people have to trust you. So that's, that's the big thing. So it's getting a background and filling out that application and going through interview, most departments will bring you on and then send you through school. We do like a six week academy. So you learn the basics about everything before we send you to school. That way we know, you know if you're gonna be here for a long time or not, never a crystal ball, but

Fuzz Martin:

no, but it's important that you have that reliability, right, and that the person is going to be there when somebody needs them.

Chief Aaron Swaney:

And I'm being the EMT, it takes years to be, you know, be good at it. So we want people that are going to be good at it not just stepping in for a few minutes and deciding that's not for them.

Fuzz Martin:

Sure. There are there are resources out there, if people wanted to do some of their own research and find out if if being an EMT would be right for them.

Chief Aaron Swaney:

You can always google anything. So that's perfect. You can also look on the national registry, empty website and it goes through exactly what you would go through in school. It's a great way to learn. Now if that's for you, as well. There's always videos, YouTube videos, you can watch and

Fuzz Martin:

and I suppose you as a veteran, is that a good position for a veteran to take on.

Chief Aaron Swaney:

So we do have a lot of veterans. And they've been on the department for 20 plus years. They're the core there. But they're getting older, and we need to replace it with the younger, we don't have that middle aged person right now. Because there was a fall off. And so we're trying to bring new people and create that core group again. And I think most departments are doing the same thing. Well, it's

Fuzz Martin:

important that we obviously have these services in our in all of our communities. And I think if again, if you're listening to this and you're on the fence, I really encourage you to go and learn more about it and talk to your local fire and EMTs Right,

Chief Aaron Swaney:

yeah, come on. Come on into the Jackson fire department or anywhere in the community. You got Newburgh, you got Kewaskum, Richfield, Hartford. There's Slinger. There's tons of them. St. Lawrence Allenton. Kohlsville - Kohlsville. Yeah. So everybody needs them. And it's, it's not just Jackson, it's a lot of the smaller communities that are really, really hurt and they don't have the young base that that is needed to fulfill that

Fuzz Martin:

Chief Swaney, I appreciate you coming in. Thanks for all you do for our community and we hope we can get a good crop of EMTs into our local communities. Well, I

Chief Aaron Swaney:

look forward to seeing people come in and and hopefully I hear the same from the other communities as well.

Fuzz Martin:

Thank you again to Chief Aaron Swaney from the Village of Jackson Fire Department for joining me today. I'm always looking for guests like Chief Swaney to teach us about things that we might not already know about here in Washington County. You have an idea or a guest on my show something that's interesting here in Washington County. Hit me up spelled out fifteen with fuzz or use the form at of that's slash g u e s t. New episodes come out every single stinking Monday except for today That's Tuesday. But it's my show and I do what I won't. But I really do appreciate you listening and we will talk to you next Monday. Right here on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz.

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