Report: Fewer people becoming first responders in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jordan Tarvin is studying hard. She’s part of a training class to become an EMT at MEMS. She said having two parents in law enforcement and a love of medicine made her choose a career as a first responder.

“It’s something I’m used to, and I really appreciate and look up to in my parents. So, having my opportunity to help the community out is really exciting.”

But while staffing at MEMS is fairly steady, the Arkansas Ambulance Association says more people are getting out of the business than getting in it statewide. Chance Dryer said he sees it all the time.

“Some people get on that first critical call and they check out. Some people are still in school when it happens. They just say, ‘look, thank y’all for the opportunity. We can’t do this.’ And then, sometimes, it takes years.”

The stress of the job, the low starting salary, and the long hours are the most common reasons why EMTs and paramedics quit. Jon Swanson, executive director of MEMS, said 600 non-renewals is average, compared to the roughly 800 this year.

“It’s challenging because you’re always—you’re always on call. You’re always in a position where there’s no downtime, and sometimes that can be challenging, just knowing that at any minute, you could have that critical call.”

MEMS is the only ambulance service in Arkansas with its own training programs, at a time when Swanson said some colleges are ending theirs. Dryer is now studying to become a paramedic, after facing the kind of self-doubt that has made others give up the job.

‘I’m running these calls, and I don’t have enough knowledge.’ And it took me eight years to figure that out, but I finally had that confidence that I looked at it and said, I need to do this. If not for me and my family, for my community.”

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