City council approves to hire up to three part-time EMTs to fill daytime shifts

Photo by Chad Koenen
The Henning City Council approved hiring up to three part-time employees to fill daytime ambulance shifts that have been difficult to fill in the past. The hope was to avoid using mutual aid and assist the ambulance service by providing local care for residents in the greater Henning area. 

By Chad Koenen


The Henning Ambulance Service will hire up to three part-time EMT’s to fill open shifts within the department. 

During a special city council meeting last Monday night, the Henning City Council approved hiring the employees to fill some of the daytime shifts that have become difficult to staff for the growing ambulance service. The special meeting came after an anonymous complaint was filed with the state concerning the local ambulance service. 

Henning Ambulance co-director Chelsea Waskosky addressed the anonymous complaint and cleared up a misconception that a call was missed by the ambulance service. Waskosky said a call came in on Nov. 15 at 5:55 a.m. in which one crew member responded to a call when no one else could assist. The individual paged for mutual aid to assist with the call. Tri-County Health Care met the Henning Ambulance Service on the scene as mutual aid to assist with the call. 

The following morning no one was able to respond to a call and Waskosky said within one minute mutual aid was called, something she said longtime ambulance service member Brian Brogard said happened in the 1980s when there were only six people on staff. 

“That’s what we do we help one another out,” said Waskosky, who said similar calls for mutual aid are done by other departments and by fire departments as well.

She said a nationwide shortage of EMTs is leading to difficulties for ambulance services across the country and not just Henning. Currently, Henning has 18 EMTs who are on call for set shifts, many of whom work out of town throughout the day.

Waskosky said several other neighboring ambulance services have faced similar issues over the years, including in Bertha where they hired a full-time EMT to serve the community Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Ambulance member Brandon Morely said every other ambulance service in the county is currently paying some, or all of its members, to be on staff during high peak or difficult times to schedule volunteers, with the exception of Henning. Up to this point Henning has been able to staff its ambulance service by paying members an on-call pay of just $1.50 per hour in which they must respond to the call within a set period of time. The ambulance service members are then paid a different wage if they respond to the call. 

Waskosky said the ambulance service has the ability to pay for the positions and still make money. Waskosky said the individuals who are on call would not be paid an increased wage for responding to calls during their shifts as that would be part of their $15 an hour wage. She said several people have already expressed an interest in the paid positions, which would allow them to work closer to home, or get their foot in the door as an EMT. 

Henning Mayor Darren Wiese said the city council needs to ensure the ambulance service is staffed as having a local ambulance service in town could be the difference between life and death. 

“This isn’t about mowing grass or plowing snow, this is about saving lives,” he said. “Quite frankly the fact we are sitting here and somebody made an anonymous call is, frankly, quite sickening.”

Councilman Wes Johnson said he was recently at a friends house and saw first hand the need for having an ambulance service in Henning. 

“I guess I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t go along with this to try to keep our ambulance,” said Johnson. “I found this out the other night. We need an ambulance crew, there is no doubt about it. This man would have died if he wouldn’t have gotten help. It was one of those situations where he was that bad off where he needed help immediately.”

Without an ambulance service, Waskosky said a fire department and rescue service would not be able to transport an individual to a hospital like the ambulance service can today. In a time when every second counts, waiting for an ambulance to arrive from places like Fergus Falls or Wadena could be the difference between life and death.

“Seconds matter so why wait another 15 minutes,” said Waskosky. “We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing for $1.50 an hour (if the members of the ambulance service didn’t have a passion for their positions). We love our community. We serve 7,000 people. I don’t want to hang them out to dry.”

Henning Ambulance Service member Scott Grabe, who was also a long time member of the Henning Fire Department, said the local ambulance service members stand behind Waskosky’s proposal. He said the ambulance service had a meeting last Thursday and understand that some people on the ambulance service may get paid more for their on-call time if they accepted one of the three part-time positions. However, he said it was more important for the ambulance service to fill shifts and help those in need, than being concerned over which members were paid more than others.

“Everybody on this crew wants to see this service continue,” he said. 

Councilman Jim Haberer asked if the townships, who are asked but not required to pay for the ambulance service, should be consulted before hiring part-time EMTs.

Grabe said the city council sets the budget for the ambulance service and also recently approved hiring a new director without consulting the area townships. He said if the ambulance service were to fail due to a lack of staffing, the local township residents would be adversely affected.

“The city sets the budget, but if we lost the service they would be just as damaged as Henning would be. They would be waiting just as long (for care),” he said. 

Waskosky said the ambulance service can afford the three part-time EMT positions, which would cover the daytime hours Monday through Friday. 

Councilman Scott Hart asked what the plan would be should enough volunteers come back to the department during the day.

Waskosky said if enough volunteers can be found for the ambulance service the paid positions can be re-evaluated in the future. 

Haberer said he has been a member of the Henning Fire Department for almost 30 years and they do not get paid for being on call. He asked why the ambulance service should be any different.

Grabe differentiated between the two departments as fire department members can come and go as they please. For example, if they are out of town they don’t respond to a call and mutual aid for other fire departments is called. While he said there is pressure and life and death situations for both fire fighters and EMTs, he said the impact on individuals on the ambulance service is higher during a call. 

While the pay for the part-time positions may not amount to a lot of money, Grabe said it could be the difference between having shifts covered and relying on mutual aid. 

“We want all of our shifts covered and if it takes somebody else making more than us that is fine. We take a lot of pride in our service. We want every single shift covered. We don’t want to give anything covered by mutual aid,” said Grabe.  

The city council unanimously approved paying for three part-time EMTs for up to 25 hours per week for each individual to cover day shifts as needed for the Henning Ambulance Service. Henning councilwoman Tammy Fosse did not attend last week’s special city council meeting.