EMS gets green light to hire call takers, trimming years of shortages

AUSTIN (KXAN) – After years of staff shortages inside the City’s 911 Call Center, Austin City Council Members agreed to amend the current year’s budget to hire seven EMS call takers and dispatchers. But the end of the hiring drought does not yet extend to all public safety agencies like police.

EMS Chief of Staff James Shamard tells KXAN the agency’s first-ever Civil Service contract, enacted about 18 months ago allows the agency to hire and train new workers ‘in-house’ similar to the way police and fire hire and train new cadet candidates. They’re staff who will eventually become sworn employees, rather than civilian.

“(EMS communications medics) possess a rare set of skills,” Shamard told KXAN adding the decision to re-direct existing budget dollars now is based on a list of priorities EMS managers are working through as part of the most recent employee contract.

The funds will come from existing vacant Medic I and II positions in the EMS budget. Each new hire will eventually be paid depending on their existing call taking skill and experience, EMS staff say. The decision still leaves four vacant Communication Medic II positions which Shamard says will be filled in a six-month long promotions process that is getting underway this summer.

In the field, Austin Travis-County EMS is short:

  • 27 Medic I positions
  •  7 Medic II positions
  •  2 Captain positionsatcems

But Shamard says the tide is turning and the agency is in a “great position.” This time last year, EMS had a total of 43 sworn vacancies. Shortly after, Shamard said, Travis County added 24 new medic positions. EMS now has budget for 478 full-time positions.  Here’s a link to the EMS job application page.

Shamard added in an email, “Although the pay for these positions has not been established as of yet, it will not exceed the rate of a Medic I Communications which is $17.54/hr on a 42/hr week.”

The agenda item for the Telecom Medic positions passed at the June 26th council meeting shows the ‘Emergency Medical Services (EMS) communications section has had a high vacancy rate for the last two years due to the requirement that candidates hold a minimum of an EMT Basic certification.’ It’s a state requirement that narrows the pool of applicants and also competes with Field – Medic I candidates.

Police 9-1-1 Call Center still waiting on hires

The City Council budget amendment does not bolster funding new positions at the Police Communications Division. A police call taker is the first voice you’ll hear when you dial 9-1-1 before being transferred to a dispatcher with police, fire or EMS.

KXAN first reported last month APD executive staff included a request for 21 new call taker, dispatcher and support positions for the 9-1-1 Center on its FY 2015 unmet needs list. The ‘ask’ comes after KXAN’s investigation found years of no significant hires, rising staff sick leave numbers and burgeoning overtime and temporary employee costs nearing a million dollars.

It will be up to the City Manager’s staff to recommend Council approve adding civilian police communication jobs to the police budget later this summer. City Council’s next budget work session is set for July 31st.

One local blogger called the hires a ‘city hall victory’ after he recently publicly appealed to Council Members to dip into this year’s budget surplus to fund the 9-1-1 shortages. Again, the EMS hires use existing funding in the final FY 2014 budget, but required Council’s approval to re-allocate those dollars.


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