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Ambulance crews assigned 72-hour shifts in NM

One former worker believes public safety is at risk, but company officials said they're working hard to fix the problem

By Gabrielle Burkhart

ROSWELL, N.M.  — If someone needs help ambulance crews are there 24/7.  But now they need help, and because of it some responders are working 72-hour shifts.

The long shifts are to cover for the lack of full-time paramedics.

One former worker believes public safety is at risk, but company officials said they're working hard to fix the problem.

It's an around the clock job.

"It's kind of hit and miss," explained Tamara Allison, an emergency medical technician for Superior Ambulance.  "We'll go through spurts where it seems like we run all the time, just nonstop back-to-back calls.

"Then sometimes it's a shift like this shift where it's been pretty laid back, and the calls are spread out."

When someone calls 911 needing medical assistance, the goal is to have an ambulance on scene within six minutes.

But Superior Ambulance in Roswell is short-staffed lacking three full-time paramedics.

"At 48 hours you know, they're ready to go home," said Superior Roswell Regional Manager Armando Lucero.  "At 72, I know they're ready to go home."

Lucero said they've had to assign 72-hour shifts before because paramedics are hard to retain.

"They move to bigger cities, they get burned out, they just need to get out of the business for a while," he said.

A former Superior employee who recently resigned from the company said she quit because she thinks the shifts are dangerous.

She didn't want to go on camera but said she is very worried about a tired ambulance driver making a mistake on the job.

When asked if making a mistake on the job due to a lack of sleep is a concern, Lucero responded, "That's always a concern, but that's always a concern with a 24-hour shift too."

Lucero said it is rare for his staff to work back-to-back calls for more than six hours at a time.

Anytime they're not on a call, Lucero said workers are encouraged to rest. Superior staff are housed with the Roswell Fire Department.

Those who've worked the 72-hour shift said sleep all depends on the calls.

"Doing it, the first few shifts that you're starting out, it's like, oh my gosh, this is never going to end," Allison said. "But then after a while it's just like, your body gets used to the whole system."

Allison's partner, Paramedic Jennifer Peterson, said when they get the call, she gets a boost of adrenaline.

"Sometimes it's hard to get up for like a second, but as soon as you hear your pager go off and everything, all of a sudden you just like flip over into work mode," Peterson said.

Lucero said his employees do get time to sleep, and when he can, he pulls part-time paramedics to fill in.

Superior officials said the 72-hour shifts will only last until they can hire more paramedics.

The company is getting some applications, and Superior is also paying for some of their EMT's to get certified as paramedics.

Republished with permission of KRQE

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Thursday, April 19, 2012 4:15:41 PM Wow. Truck drivers aren't allowed to drive for more than 10 consecutive hours. Pilots have limits on their work days that are far below 24 hours. At 19 consecutive hours, performance is degraded to the point of a person with blood alcohol of.10. This is patently dangerous. If the company doesn't have the sense to stop it on their own, the authorities (state, county, or local) should step in and shut this thing down.
Denise Cora Denise Cora Thursday, April 19, 2012 4:41:46 PM Reason #1 why we should all be 12 hour trucks :)
Brian Carney Brian Carney Thursday, April 19, 2012 4:48:36 PM We limit it to 18 hours but nothing stops a person from leaving us and driving over to their second or third EMS job.
Nate Cooley Nate Cooley Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:05:31 PM Interesting article. I'm thinking that if they took a look a oak call times vs down times they would be able to do something other than the typical 24/48 to spread out some time off for the staff. very good point Skip.
Robert Martin Robert Martin Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:26:33 PM Skip, a huge part of the problem is low pay. I'm a part-timer in another part of New Mexico and I make $12/hour. A full-time medic here in the Southwest has to pull 60 to 80 hours a week to survive. Some at my agency work 96s. The problem is acceptance by us.
Mackle Mart Mackle Mart Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:00:34 PM Why don't they just refuse? Aren't there any labour laws there that prevent workers from working more than a certain number of hours? Or, are emergency workers exempt there? Why not just hire like 4 paramedics and staff them 365 days a year 24/7? That would make it easier for the ambulance service wouldn't it? Just force a small number of paramedics to never go home. Problem solved.
Mackle Mart Mackle Mart Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:05:17 PM Something I have learned over the years is that typically, ambulance service providers as well as governing bodies don't really care about how tired an EMS worker is or how well and safely they are able to perform. They are just concerned with two medics showing up at a call within the targeted time. The reason they are concerned with this is because city councillors and other elected officials only care about the numbers because that's what gets them elected. If a mistake is made, and a patient dies, they just blame the medic and fire him/her and say that they had no control over this individual's horrible behaviour. And if the medics die in a car accident, they say that it is their responsibility to get adequate rest, and that it was tragic, and that as emergency workers, we all have to expect this, and the public seems to agree.
Jason Bolt Jason Bolt Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:07:53 PM What a non story. Private $ oriented services in Arkansas among others have been doing this forever. I can take you to several that work seven 24s every 14 days. At the same time, in our safety oriented system, our crews love working 48/96 and we are building evidence it is no more dangerous than 12 or 24s. Not all places are crazy busy. There is no one answer that will work everywhere.
Dakota Cortez Dakota Cortez Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:13:40 PM That's assuming they are constantly running calls. If they get plenty of downtime between "busy spurts" I don't see the issue. 12 hour shifts only work in very busy EMS systems, there are plenty of EMS systems that can do the 24 hour shift just fine.
Joe Paczkowski Joe Paczkowski Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:21:52 PM @Dakota: I would reverse that. 24+ hour shifts only work well in very slow EMS systems. Any system that can't give a significant amount of down time in order to sleep on a consistent basis is too busy for 24 hour shifts.
Kevin Bradford Kevin Bradford Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:32:25 PM Skip, I agree and I have been preaching this for years. Where I worked in Northeast TN it was not unheard of for people to work 96 hours straight and 48-72 was pretty well the norm. Most of the time I refused because I just don't agree with it. If I can remember right, in the decade+ that I have been doing this I have only worked one 72 hour shift. Not only are other people at risk but so are you. Robert, I agree also. The biggest reason that these problems occur is because we all accept it. If all of us medic's would stand together and stand up we could get things done but that will never happen, at least around here.
Dale G Wolfard Dale G Wolfard Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:10:21 PM I would be very, very interested in the evidence you build regarding the 48/96. I work a 48/96 car in a district that averages 3 calls per day. Sometime 8 calls a day and sometimes 0. Our district is the slowest in a 3 district system. The other districts have several units per district and have 5 other cars running 24's and 12's. Our district only has one slow unit. I love my 48 but our bosses want to take it away. However, a 48/96 would not work in a district that runs 8 to 12 calls per car per day. The problem with 12's is that it takes 25% more labor to run the same amount units. If an ambulance company wants to run 12's, It must spend 25% more labor dollars or cut 25% of total unit hours on the road. You now have a faster paced system when you run 12's because no ambulance service is gonna spend 25% more money for the same amount of calls. As long as a system is fully staffed with 24's and 48's you would have more units available at all hours of the day based upon labor dollars. More units means a safer district for employees and the public. Private ambulance services do not care about safety. They care about unit utilization hours. More calls per hour/per ambulance equals more money made per car. That means that they would rather have 7 twelve hr (84 unit hours a day) cars working a sytem instead of 5 24's (120 unit hours day). Yes, the paramedics might be safer, but the system itself cannot keep up if there are no units available.
Greg Peeler Greg Peeler Friday, April 20, 2012 5:10:05 AM Regardless of how many calls a EMS crew runs, that much time away from home will cause problems with marriage, moral, and the employee's children in the long run. Most children with issues of crime, poor grades, etc can be related to lack of parent involvement. So this can create a problem for society as well.
Robert Martin Robert Martin Friday, April 20, 2012 7:26:38 AM I'd bet EMS has killed more with fatigue and provider error than have ever died from flawed treatments.
Christopher Leroux Christopher Leroux Friday, April 20, 2012 8:41:55 AM I'm a Paramedic here in Cole County in MO. I work the 24 on/48 off and depending on the day we could be steady, busy as hell or nothing. But the nights that I'm up ALL night long, it takes almost the whole next day to recover. Ha ha, yes I know, could be something to do with age but other than the recovery time for lack of sleep, alot of us here Medics and EMT's prefer the 24's because of the blended OT and the 5 days off in between our 5/7 split. Which is where we work 5 shifts with 2 days off in between each shift then we are off for 5 days then 7 shifts with 2 days off in between shift then off 5 days. Not a bad schedule. Gives us the opportunity to find a 2nd job if need be. But yes, the 24/12 hour controversy has been discussed here at length. Just be safe folks, ok?
Muhammad Fahmi Muhammad Fahmi Friday, April 20, 2012 8:50:15 AM wow. is that happen.
Mamie Webber Mamie Webber Friday, April 20, 2012 9:01:12 AM My last job was 72 hours one week, 120 the next...they offered no PTO, if you wanted a day or two off you had to "trade" with someone else which would put you at potentially 7-10 days straight or more. plus they expected you to come in on days/nights off to teach or cover backup if more than two transfers went out. Granted there wasn't a high call volume, but all those days away from family and home? Receipe for burnout, marital issues, mistakes, accidents, depression, fatigue.... ect.....
Dave McCann Dave McCann Friday, April 20, 2012 9:18:57 AM We used to work 7 days of 24 hour on call and were the only service for miles around. I used to refuse calls because the average time to do a call was 6 hours. I can NOT believe anyone would work for $12/hour. As EMT intermediate we were making $350/day. Average hourly pay for EMT-I is $24/h and Advanced care paramedic is $30-$40/hour. I quit working ambulance full time to run a medical clinic at an industrial work site and sleep all night long and now make $650/day as an advanced care paramedic. For info email me
Dave McCann Dave McCann Friday, April 20, 2012 9:21:09 AM Aren't we all trained to not put ourselves in dangerous positions and refuse dangerous work? I think this qualifies. They should vote for a union!
Angie Soper Angie Soper Friday, April 20, 2012 9:34:13 AM I wish I was down there. I would love to upgrade to Paramedic! We already do 24 to 48 hour shifts so that isn't anything new.
Nancy Wilson Pollard Nancy Wilson Pollard Friday, April 20, 2012 10:16:20 AM Very true, Greg... Once again, thanks for all you guys and gals do for so many!
Patrick Oneal Patrick Oneal Friday, April 20, 2012 12:40:55 PM I am sympathetic to the folks who have to work 72 hour shifts, however as chris can atest to I have work that many and many more in a row longest being 3 months straight. The problem isn't just a roswell/superior problem and there is no simple solution other than to train more people. However that is not as simple as it sounds, ems is a "calling" kinda job, you have to have the passion for the job, as the hours, the pay, the working conditions and equipment and so much more affect everybody who has done this job for any length of time.
Jeff Girman Jeff Girman Friday, April 20, 2012 3:17:11 PM Thats nuts! Not only that, but as many EMS calls we run during the night with little sleep. Not healthy at all.
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Friday, April 20, 2012 4:56:41 PM The problem, Marty, is that people will just do this and not stand up for themselves. It is not illegal, but it is surely the wrong thing to do!
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Friday, April 20, 2012 4:57:55 PM Or vote with their walking shoes.....
Michael Stone Michael Stone Saturday, April 21, 2012 4:48:43 AM My scheduled shifts are Monday, Saturday, Sunday week 1 and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday week 2. We get paid 13 hours 20 min regular time each day, then 10 hours 40 minutes on call time at $1.50 an hour each day. If we get a call during call time it is paid at our OT rate. We are a rural EMS system, but somedays we do run all night long. You have to learn to rest/nap/sleep when not on a call regardless what time of day or night it is.
Jonathan Farrow Jonathan Farrow Saturday, April 21, 2012 7:17:07 AM Skip Kirkwood but saying oh they should just refuse doesn't work, if they are short Medics who is going to cover when they refuse? I work in a service where we only have 3 ALS providers in the department, so if someone is out there are only 2 other people to cover. It hurts the community to just refuse. And as other folks have pointed out with the pay system in EMS turning down shifts to prove a point would bankrupt most of us
Leif Orr Leif Orr Sunday, April 22, 2012 12:17:45 PM I work for this company in another 911 operation, and I have this to say: The normal 48/96 is awesome! I love getting to work for 48 hrs and getting four days off with my family. I work with a current paramedic who just transfered to my operation area from Roswell (where this story originated from) and he said it was rare for the madness described to last longer than 18 hours. As for what we are paid, we could all be paid more for what we do, but I wouldn't trade my 48/96's for a twelve hour shift with a pay increase of $2.50 an hour. Sitting in a truck for 12 hours sucks! It is miserable! I would work 72 hrs straight all of the time, if I could. In this day and age the over time is welcome!
Leif Orr Leif Orr Sunday, April 22, 2012 12:23:03 PM Patrick has hit it right on the head. I completely agree!!
Earl Jorgensen Earl Jorgensen Sunday, April 22, 2012 3:54:41 PM Greg I totally agree with you. As a former emt from new Mexico who worked 80-90+ hours a week to support my family only to loose my wife and daughters with my ex leaving me for another man cuz I was never home.
Eve Kwiatkowski Eve Kwiatkowski Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:09:27 PM This is insane....mistakes can only follow.
Alex Tsantes Alex Tsantes Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:27:42 PM Michelle, you have to admit that working 911 for 72 hours is absolute insanity. It can be very hard to make it through a 36 hour shift if you run hard, and we're talking twice as long. It isn't about being in the "wrong"'s about patient safety and provider safety. People who've worked in EMS for decades with this kind of lifestyle suffer enormously and the burnout rate is way too high. We have to work to further this line of work with the legitimacy and professionalism it deserves...and this means not putting providers and patients at such risks.
Leif Orr Leif Orr Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:46:43 PM That is becausr living cross didnt care enough to put on enough trucks to cover the demand of calls....
Alex Tsantes Alex Tsantes Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:50:28 PM Right, but essentially what you are describing are additional problems--problems coming directly from private ambulance companies--that make these issues even worse. It all has to change, everything. But no one knows how bad it really is. Don't you agree awareness could change things?
Alex Tsantes Alex Tsantes Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:53:12 PM And I really hope you're not arguing that Superior takes better care of employees than LCAS does...
Leif Orr Leif Orr Sunday, April 22, 2012 7:19:58 PM Dont get me wrong I love the field crews at cross, but they are the only thing I like about the company......but no I would say that the hours are more plentiful at superior, and things have slightly improved, but lets be serious as long as the bottom line is all that matters employees every are going to continue to be second.
Douglas Bird Douglas Bird Sunday, April 22, 2012 8:21:51 PM You cannot be very busy. At the end of 12 hours my behind is dragging. We often go without breaks and lunches, let alone resting. I cannot imagine myself doing the drug calculation on a neonatal arrest having been at work for 72 hours.
Leif Orr Leif Orr Sunday, April 22, 2012 8:32:06 PM Douglas Bird We don't run a lot of calls, but the calls we are on often require pt contact times are often 1 hr or probably work with in a system that does the whole status system management. I bet your ass is draggin....I hate 12 hour days. We operate out of a fire station like setting. We sleep when we can.
Richard C Nix Richard C Nix Monday, April 23, 2012 9:50:27 AM "They move to bigger cities, they get burned out, they just need to get out of the business for a while," he said. LUCERO, you're an ass. Why don't YOU "get out of the business" for a while? This is the employee's chosen career. 72s are unsafe. traffic or not, you need a break. 48s are tolerable at some systems. busy systems might need 12 hour cars. It's up to responsible companies to make this decision. 12, 24, 48 hour shifts it is very possible to run a "stand up" and have no rest. Add a transfer car, eliminate out-of-town transfers, etc. BTDT. Do you really want to be treated by a tired, fatigued paramedic going on 36 hours without sleep? Once again, responsible companies, need to value the employee more and improve working conditions. Wonder why Superior has a high turnover? The medics go off to better pay or better conditions at some other company.
Vicky Gordy Shryock Vicky Gordy Shryock Monday, April 23, 2012 10:03:37 AM retaining personnel is always a problem. probably always will be. we are short paramedics too, and some end up working 96+ hour shifts. not usually a problem, but when you end up running back to back. plus i live 100 miles from work. 12 hour shifts wouldnt work for me. so i do 72's.
Vicky Gordy Shryock Vicky Gordy Shryock Monday, April 23, 2012 10:04:53 AM but i have to confess, i am thinking alot about doing something else...the older i get, the less i wanna jump outa bed at
Greg Givens Greg Givens Monday, April 23, 2012 11:47:18 AM I miss it........
John Novak John Novak Monday, April 23, 2012 2:28:27 PM It all depends on the company you work for. My former employer, an AMR subsideary, switched from 48/96 to a 3/4 fire shift, to some cars keeping the 3/4 and others goint to 12 hour shifts. It really depends on how busy you are. I just finished a 96 and had 2 and 3 calls per 24 hour period. I went home feeling fine.
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Monday, April 23, 2012 3:49:47 PM Denise Cora No disagreement from me! And headed in that direction!
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Monday, April 23, 2012 3:53:45 PM Jonathan Farrow The "hurt" is temporary. If the community can't staff its ambulances with miserable pay and ridiculous hours, it will change the way that it pays and schedules. It's not to prove a point - it's to cause change. Watch the movie FIST (about the Teamsters, starring Silvester Stallone) and see how labor making some short-term sacrifices can change a whole industry!
Robert Martin Robert Martin Monday, April 23, 2012 10:59:32 PM Another problem is the area- Roswell isn't exactly the most attractive place in the US. It's not bad, but not a lot of people move _to_ eastern New Mexico or West Texas.
Ruth McGuire Woolery Ruth McGuire Woolery Monday, April 23, 2012 11:39:14 PM I have worked EMS for over 30 yrs and am currently working as a paramedic for the fire department of a larger city. The City contracts with a private ambulance to staff most of the ambulances. (I know - it's weird.) I rarely work more than 24 hrs at a time. 24's make sense where it is slow. Real slow. I personally think we should be on 12's. Of course, I love my 4's and 6's - but taking good care of my patients and keeping me healthy is more important. I generally work with younger EMTs who think they are good to work 72s. A few weeks ago, at three in the morning of the first shift of three in a row, my partner stopped at a red light. When he didn't go after the stop, I looked over and saw he had fallen asleep. I woke him by touching his arm and telling him he was clear. He insisted that did not happen. I've had another partner stop at green lights in a part of town where there is essentially no traffic in the middle of the night. Another young lady agreed to work a 36 because staffing was so bad. Her butt was not in bed most of the night. She asked for an hour or so the next afternoon for a safety nap - her supervisor came unglued - said he had never heard of such a thing. Now the private ambulance service is starting to "mandatory" their employees. Don't even talk about meal breaks. Oh - both fire employees and private EMS are both represented by unions. Did I mention the FD and the City makes money off of the transports. I'll spare y'all my stories of traffic accidents and med/pt care errors made in the wee hours. I've said enough for now. Be safe my friends.
Shragi Schupak Shragi Schupak Wednesday, April 25, 2012 5:57:13 PM That is dangerous. At FDNY we are not allowed to work more then 16 hours at a time and we are required to have a minimum of 8 hours in between shifts. Even 16 hours is a lot I could not imagine working 72 hours straight.

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