ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organizations are facing major staffing shortages as a result of the pandemic. At the same time however, demand for service is soaring.

In an effort to combat position-wide shortages, Rochester AMR is launching ‘Earn While You Learn’, a new program built to bring more people on board. The program offers an opportunity to learn the trade, all free of charge.

Rochester residents can apply to take an 11-week course and earn a paycheck at the same time. Once completed, participators receive an EMT certification. The program doesn’t require any experience.

To qualify you must be 18 years of age, show proof of a high school diploma or GED, have required immunizations and successfully complete a background check.

Operations Manager with Rochester AMR, Mark Philippy says day-to-day work in the city can be intense. In the past year, he says the region has seen a 30% decrease in paramedics and EMTs.

“They see in a year what some of the suburban agencies might not see for ten years,” Philippy said.  

The amount of staff shortages at Rochester AMR are felt throughout the organization, on or off the field.

“We will have 24 ambulances out at peak times then all of a sudden it gets so volatile that you can’t keep up with it,” Senior Operation Supervisor for Rochester AMR, Andrew Perez.

The program offers a great opportunity for those who can’t afford classes at community college, while earning you money. The pay for ‘Earn While You Learn’ starts at $13.50, just over mimulus wage and can climb to $16.50.

Some however believe the pay could be discouraging people from taking interest in the industry.

Tom Kirchoff is one of those people. Kirchoff is the Irondequoit Ambulance Chief, and says it’s been a common complaint in the EMS community for years.

“Historically wages remain low in EMS,” Kirchoff said. “Our call volumes have gone up, operation cost gone up, and employees are worth more; they’re well trained, highly skilled.”

Kirchoff says they’re also experiencing high rate in calls. He says they used to average in the 400s a month — and are now seeing 500s and 600s.

He says while the industry sounds stressful at peak periods, it’s rewarding. He doesn’t want that to discourage anyone from taking interest in the program. Kirchoff urges the community to contact elected representatives to advocate for funding for these agencies, so they can continue to handle these busy seasons.

Applications for ‘Earn While You Learn’ are due July 16. The program begins mid-summer.