San Diego County

San Diego County looks to diversify EMS workforce as staffing levels rebound

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of EMTs and paramedics across the county fell by roughly 10%

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San Diego County officials are pushing to diversify the ranks of first responders, like emergency medical technicians and paramedics, as staffing levels rebound from a steep drop during the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Diego County generally has about 10,000 to 11,000 credentialed EMS workers at a time, officials said. During the pandemic, the number of EMTs and paramedics across the county fell to roughly 9,000 — a 10% drop.

That figure has since rebounded, with a total of 6,948 EMTs and 3,993 paramedics currently working across the county, as well as another 453 EMS providers like nurses, physicians and more, according to the county. That brings the total workforce to 11,394, officials said.

But the push to hire more EMS workers is constant and evolving, San Diego County Fire Director Jeff Collins said.

“Every single day, there's going to be an emergency, whether it's a car accident or a medical incident, a child getting injured. We've got to be there to respond,” Collins said. "We've got to have a workforce that not only is robust but also represents the region. We need to change the diversity of the workforce to make sure that we really represent the people that we serve.”

Roughly seven of every 10 EMS workers are male, according to Collins, who said there’s a renewed effort to hire more women. And a total of 1,897 EMTs and paramedics are Hispanic or Latino, which equates to roughly 16%, in a county that’s more than one-third Hispanic.

It’s not just gender or race. Collins said the focus now is on recruiting more EMS workers from all walks of life, like individuals with experience in the criminal justice or foster care systems as well.

“It's important that when people respond to communities, that they look like the community members,” Claudia Rempel, president of the Ambulance Association of San Diego County, said. “It builds trust, and it also helps with dialogue when you talk about interpretation and different languages.”

Rempel said agencies have to “get creative” to find people who may not realize that a career as a first responder is an option for them.

“It's available, and it's a great and exciting career, and it's become a stepping stone to become a paramedic, a nurse, even, you know, a PA or physician,” Rempel said.

San Diego County marked the beginning of the nationwide EMS week, celebrating emergency workers, on Monday with an event at the county’s Sheriff Technology and Information Center that enabled EMTs to recertify their skills as required every two years. The event was also aimed at recruiting new first responders to the field.

“We need you. This region needs you,” Collins said. “If you're looking to become a medical professional or work in the pre-hospital system, an EMT is a foundation, it’s a critical foundation in order to pursue that career.”

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