Wisconsin EMS shortage, Greenfield FD among those struggling to hire

Firefighters and other leaders describe the state's EMS industry as a formula for failure, with departments struggling to hire – or worse, unable to respond to calls.

This problem isn't unique to one department. Fire departments and private ambulance providers are feeling this all over, including in Milwaukee County.

One fire chief said he doesn't think it's a problem that money alone can solve. Instead, it comes down to people.

At the Greenfield Fire Department, Chief Jon Cohn knows his department is doing more with fewer resources.

"Between 2020 and 2022, we've gone up 2,000 calls of an increase, and our staffing remains the same," said Cohn.

For GFD, 85% of the calls are medical. As Chief Cohn tries to hire, the career firefighter of 31 years sees a different problem: An industry that just doesn't have enough people.

"If somebody came in and said, you know, 'Here's a bunch of money and a bunch of open positions,' I don't know if we would be able to fill those positions because the supply of candidates is down so much," said Cohn.

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That's why, during a recent hiring cycle, Cohn filled just two of three firefighter-paramedic positions. The third remains open, but he knows the demand and desire for the job aren't what they used to be.

"The more calls we go on, the more stress there is, the more mental health concerns that we have," said Cohn.

It adds burnout to the fires, crashes and emergencies they already tend to.

An industry built to respond to 911 calls now needs some help of its own.

"There's no magic pill here, and it's really difficult, and we're just trying to weather it," said Cohn.

There's a funding aspect to this, too, and Governor Tony Evers' office said he is looking at ways to prioritize public safety within his upcoming budget, which would include increased shared revenue from the state.