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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Grants Support Firefighter, Paramedic Training Opportunities in Alexandria

Thanks to two federal grants, the Alexandria Fire Department hopes to recruit more fire and emergency service students and volunteers. (photo: Tiffany Page)

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Thanks to two federal grants, the Alexandria Fire Department is able to offer training opportunities for potential career and volunteer firefighters, EMTs, paramedics or other front line health care workers.

The need for trained emergency personnel is growing, but many fire departments are strapped for the funds to properly recruit and train all the staff and volunteers that are needed.


"They did a study in Northern Kentucky about three years ago, and at that time they determined we will need between 250 and 300 career firefighters, EMTs and paramedics in the coming years due to retirements, growth and other factors. We are seeing this play out," said Greg Schultz, volunteer recruiter and grants manager for the department.

Schultz served in the Fort Thomas Fire Department for 22 years before retiring in 2014. Since that time he has served as recruiter for the Burlington Fire Department and now for Alexandria.

He says he has seen the study’s predictions playing out as the need for staff has increased, while the ability to hire and train personnel has been a challenge. He noted that Ohio has a fire service academy, but Kentucky relies on the volunteer program. The hope is that departments can draw from a volunteer pool, but Schultz said the system results in extra work and cost, a challenge for many departments.

He added that, as a person who started his own career as a volunteer in 1974, the volunteer service is vital to the function of fire departments and greatly appreciated. Yet, he said, to have the funds to be able to provide career training for those interested in the field is a great opportunity. 
 

Tuition reimbursement for first responder and related careers


Alexandria received $750,000 from the grants for personnel support and training. The first of two grants is through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG). The AFG funds provide tuition assistance to firefighters, paramedics and EMS students, but the money can also be used to support students in related health care fields, including nursing and pre-med fields. Students must be full-time, carrying at least 12 credit hours and spend time each week at their local fire department as a volunteer.

Volunteers do a wide variety of support duties from cleaning and cooking, to inspecting equipment. They also receive training and can serve in backup capacities as their knowledge progresses. In exchange, the students receive up to $5,000 per semester and an opportunity to experience and explore fire and emergency service first hand, said Schultz.

He noted the department now has 13 students in the program, including those in fire, paramedic and emergency service programs as well as a variety of other careers. One student is studying to be physician’s assistant, another is preparing to take the MCAT exam, while others are in respiratory therapy and nursing.

While these people may not all choose fire service directly, the field experience can be invaluable throughout their careers said Schultz. The hope, he said, is that even if they go into other fields, they will continue to volunteer or support their fire departments in other ways and will take that understanding of emergency response into their new careers.

At Burlington, Schultz said they’ve had tremendous success. He counted about 25 people who have come through the program with the federal assistance. 


Support for volunteer training

 
More federal funding, through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program through FEMA has provided funding to support and train volunteer firefighters and paramedics to help enhance staffing response and operations.

Schultz explained that the SAFER grant offers direct funding for volunteers. Often volunteers pay many expenses out of their own pockets, but the SAFER grant eliminates much of that financial burden. It covers equipment, PPE, physical exams, background checks and a wide variety of training classes. 
 
Students and other volunteers get hands-on training through programs funded by federal grants to fire departments. (photo: Greg Schultz)


Thanks to the SAFER and AFG grants students and volunteers receive ongoing training that helps support a robust emergency response team. (photo: Greg Schultz)
 

Support = Safety for the community


Having more fire service personnel on the career track and well-trained and equipped volunteers results in better department operations and additional safety throughout the community, Schultz said. For example, it results in more coverage and less reliance on "mutual aid," calling upon other departments for help.

At Alexandria they have two ambulances and five career paramedics, so if both ambulances are out, having trained volunteers still available can make a big difference, he explained.

Schultz said he is pleased to have the resources necessary to provide full safety response to the community. "This is a great opportunity for me near the end of my career, having a great way to get people involved and motivated to become interested in fire and emergency services."

If you are interested in become a volunteer or in the tuition support program, please contact Schultz by email at gschultz@afdky.org.

Volunteers undergo agility training as well as classroom skills.
 (photo: Greg Schultz)

Training for rescue is a vital component of training for volunteers. (photo: Greg Schultz)


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