Oregon recognizes four levels of emergency medical services personnel.
Emergency medical responders, or EMRs, undergo training to provide basic life support at the scene of an accident. EMRs can’t transport patients or give medication.
Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, take two terms of instruction, plus 10 hours in an ambulance and 10 in a hospital, to obtain national certification. EMTs can provide basic life support and perform more advanced procedures while transporting patients.
Paramedics must obtain a two-year degree and another 240 hours in an ambulance and 270 in a hospital. They can then obtain advanced certification, such as to be a flight medic.
The median salary for paramedics in Oregon is around $38,000 a year, said Terry Mendez, the paramedic program director at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
“With a paramedic degree, you can do quite a bit more than just working on an ambulance,” he said.
Some fire departments, even those without ambulances, require firefighters to have a paramedic degree. Disaster relief agencies hire paramedics to travel internationally. Hospitals hire paramedics as part of their teams in intensive care units and emergency rooms.
SWOCC has offered an EMT program since the early 1990s and started the paramedic program in 2008 with the assistance of Bay Cities Ambulance, which initially provided facilities and equipment for the classes. Now all classes are taught at SWOCC, with field experience at local hospitals and emergency agencies.
Many people get their first exposure to EMS work by volunteering at a fire department. Some students support themselves during the paramedic program by working as “sleepers” at a volunteer department. In exchange for their firefighting work, the department gives them room and board.
The EMS calling also seems to run in families.
Paramedic Brodie Sproles said he “married into a family in the medical field.”
Bay Cities Ambulance Paramedic Luke Taylor did mill work before starting his EMS career. “It was the exact same thing, eight hours a day,” he said.
EMS work is more lively, he said. “You meet all kinds of people, from 100 years old to 18 days old.”
Sproles said the work isn’t for everyone. “You have to be a stronger personality to do this,” he said.
But “the coolest thing is the camaraderie of this job,” Sproles said. “Off shift we all hang out, and that’s the way it should be.”