GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — The EMS program at Volunteer State Community College is full. Candidates continue to complete courses, graduate and head to work. So why is there a shortage in the community?   

“One of the stations I work with has five trucks for the whole county, but we’re frequently down to two and three trucks because of staffing issues,” said Erik Jesse, Program Director and paramedic.

Jesse added staffing issues has been plaguing the area.

“If you live on that side of the county and that station is shut down, you’re now waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance you used to have to wait 10 minutes for,” Jesse said.

Unlike decades past, these students will enter a job industry ripe with variety from pay, schedule, benefits, and a desperate need. More Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving spots unfilled.

“If we aren’t getting paid to take the risks to do the things that we need to do to get on the truck, we’re not going to do it,” said Ella Grant Pollard, EMS student at Vol State.

Students like 18-year-old Grant realize they can be selective.

“Do I do something that I am passionate about? Or, do I do something that is going to pay the bills? and that’s a hard choice,” said Grant.

A choice she wishes she didn’t have to make. Following the basic 15 week course, these students are licensed EMTs making roughly $50,000 annually.

“Private services can only pay what Medicare reimburses them,” said Jesse. “Public services are stuck with whatever the tax base has for them. We can’t compete against Walmart that can sell stock to raise money to pay higher salaries.”

And the private sector knows that.

“In the last two years, I have been contacted by places I never would have thought of asking to come recruit students.” Jesse continued, “I’ve had industrial plants who want to station them there in case someone gets hurt. I’ve had dentist offices. They want them as receptionist in case there’s a medical emergency. Security companies…”

It’s not an issue Jesse has kept quiet.

“In some cases the county officials think we’re exaggerating the problem; in some cases they’re more worried about raising taxes than they are about providing services,” said Jesse.

Now he’s alerting the community.

“Get it out there so the public knows what they’re facing.” He added, “They need to talk to their local alderman, their mayor, their county officials and make sure they understand they want an ambulance. They expect an ambulance.”

An ambulance that arrives in time to help.

Vol State also offers dual enrollment classes to high schoolers who can graduate with their EMT certificate and get hired straight out of school making $20- 25 an hour.