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Portsmouth firefighters, paramedics demand change ahead of city budget meeting

Some Portsmouth firefighters said they need more paramedics and resources.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. —
Portsmouth city leaders are set to approve their 2023 budget Tuesday night. But some Portsmouth firefighters are sounding the alarm they need more resources to keep communities safe. They hope to get their voices heard before a final decision is made.

Members of the Portsmouth Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association are demanding change. They are expressing their concerns on social media saying, “Our city has hit rock bottom with paramedic staffing.” They claim some days, they don’t have paramedics on calls and are forced to rely on other cities' fire engines for help.

Portsmouth City Councilman Christopher Woodard Jr. said that’s not the case.

“From what I’m hearing, we aren’t rock bottom with paramedics. We actually just had some graduates. We had 10 graduates of our fire academy," said Woodard.

But Councilman Bill Moody agrees with the association.

“I don’t think the shortages that they speak of are fictitious at all. I think they’re real, and I think there’s something that the city council needs to make a top priority," said Moody.

The city’s operating budget for the fiscal year 2023 is set for more than $492 million. More than $68 million may go to public safety.

“It’s an ongoing thing. We have firefighters coming to our council meetings. We’ve been going to their ceremonies just to show our support because we do support our paramedics, firefighters. They are the unsung heroes within our city," said Woodard.

Woodard said the concerns will be heard during the budget meeting.

“Tomorrow [Tuesday] our fire chief will address a lot of these concerns and some of these facts about some of these statements that are made," said Woodard. 

“Keep in mind fire Chiefs are hired by city managers, not by city councils," said Moody.

Members of the Portsmouth Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association did not want to comment.

A Portsmouth spokeswoman, Dana Woodson, sent 13News Now the following statement saying the fire department has 51 paramedics certified members and they have three vacancies, which they are recruiting for this week.

"The Fire Department has a total of 51 paramedic certified members assigned to Fire/EMS Operations. Included amongst the 51 certified paramedics there are 38 full-time certified paramedics and 13 part-time certified paramedics. These personnel are prioritized to staff five ambulances and an EMS Supervisor vehicle 24/7. Some of these certified paramedics are assigned to fire engines or fire battalion chief vehicles. These Fire Department vehicles aid in supporting the emergency medical call load. There are currently five full-time paramedic vacancies in the department complement; two new full-time paramedics accepted job offers last week. This leaves a total three full-time paramedic vacancies in the department. We intend to recruit for these full-time paramedic vacancies this week. The staffing of certified paramedics on ambulances is priority. With support from Portsmouth’s Operational Medical Director (OMD) Dr. Donald Byers, we occasionally staff one or two Portsmouth ambulances with a certified Advanced Emergency Medical Technician and a Firefighter-EMT with a supporting certified paramedic in the EMS Supervisor vehicle and/or a certified paramedic riding on a fire engine. By modifying the medical staffing on response units, we are able to balance the workload amongst the various medically certified personnel. Using statistical analysis, about 30% of all medical emergencies require a certified paramedic to handle. This leaves greater than 60% of medical emergencies able to be handled by either an Emergency Medical Technician or an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician. We created a failsafe for all medical emergency calls for service by having at least one certified paramedic to respond to calls needing advanced life support care. In this instance, if the ambulance does not have a certified paramedic, a certified paramedic is responding from either an EMS Supervisor vehicle, fire engine, and/or fire battalion chief vehicle. This response methodology allows the department to deploy resources in a variety of ways. By maximizing the utilization of all response vehicles, the department is able to provide the optimal responses as a Fire-based EMS Department."