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Local first responders deal with staffing shortages

COVID-19 related staffing shortages continue to affect countless organizations and businesses, and now the first responders are feeling the effects too.

Many first responders are working longer hours to make sure the community gets its necessary emergency response services. 

Captain Nathan Gunkel with Palm Springs Fire Department told News Channel 3 that as of Tuesday, the department has seven people out with COVID and seven people out injured. Total, there is 65 safety personnel. The department needs to have 21 personnel every day across all five stations.

"They're supposed to go home, but whoever is supposed to come in and relieve them just got covid, or there's just no one to work," said Gunkel. "We're trying to provide the same service. We're trying to provide the same quality of care."

But some within PSFD are working up to five days at a time, 120 hours straight with only a single day break.

"We always worry about [quality of our emergency services], of course, you know, and our own safety and you know, how well can we keep performing. So we've been a little extra cautious," said Gunkel.

PSFD has cut back on training to give workers more rest time and does daily check-ins with personnel.

Palm Springs City Manager Justin Clifton said he is not worried about emergency services being compromised.

"One way or the other, we will make sure that we're staffed up appropriately to deliver the life-saving kinds of services that are provided by our emergency responders," said Clifton.

PSFD has not had to close any fire stations or cut back on any emergency services.

Cal Fire in Riverside County is not only dealing with COVID-related staffing shortages but with hiring and retention issues as well. 

"We're kind of seeing this the shortage on recruitment and hiring because we don't have the qualified people right now," said Cal Fire captain Richard Cordova. "Individuals are looking for better opportunities or higher pay."

Cordova said many of the schools and academies that trained first responders closed in the pandemic. He also adds that they are especially short on paramedics.

"Unfortunately, it falls on the backs of the first responders and the firefighters at the station," said Cordova.

Cal Fire in Riverside County has not had to close any fire stations or cut back on any emergency services.

"They take their jobs very seriously and they take pride in to serving the public and when that bell goes off, they're out there 100% trying to take care or defuse the incident," said Cordova.

Cordova said Cal Fire is actively looking for more ways to recruit qualified candidates to relieve the shortage.

As of Tuesday, there are 60 individuals within Cal Fire Riverside out with COVID. The department has a total of 1200 personnel.

News Channel Three reached out to American Medical Response which has ambulance services in the Coachella Valley. An AMR spokesperson sent in a statement regarding their staffing shortages:

"Our Riverside County healthcare system is experiencing extensive hospital bed delays. Although bed delays have been a systemic problem for over a decade, our teams are now waiting hours to unload patients as hospitals struggle to meet strict emergency room staffing requirements. Despite the devastating nature of the pandemic and the disaster response it has created, hospital patient staffing ratios remain in place, as do other restrictive regulations that prevent us from meeting the demands of the EMS system. Hospitals are using our paramedics and EMTs to cover their staffing shortages, which has impacted our ability to respond to other requests. This issue has required the county and our fire department partners to implement policies to ensure that we can maintain EMS services in the county and reach patients suffering from the most acute illnesses or injuries. This requires us to demand more from our EMTs and paramedics, who continue to step up to meet the needs of our community. We urge the public to utilize the hospitals and 911 system only when it is a true emergency or when directed by their healthcare provider. By doing so, it ensures resources are available when required. Community members should also be aware that our crews are not providing Covid testing."

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Marian Bouchot

Marian Bouchot is the weekend morning anchor and a reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. Learn more about Marian here.

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