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Ill. FD drops paramedic requirement to help increase the number of firefighter applicants

Bloomington’s new policy removes the paramedic licensing requirement to help increase the applicant pool

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City of Bloomington Fire/Facebook

By Drew Zimmerman
The Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Bloomington Fire Department, which faces a staffing shortage, no longer will require applicants to have a state-issued paramedic license before being hired.

The City Council approved making the change to the city code on Monday.

One of the biggest hurdles in the hiring process, according to city documents, is that the city has required applicants to have an Illinois Department of Public Health paramedic license at the time of hire. Under the new policy, new hires who aren’t licensed would receive the necessary training through the fire department.

An applicant still would have to meet the other requirements set forth by the Illinois Municipal Code.

Bloomington Fire Chief Eric West said the department has been down 11 firefighters and paramedics for almost a year.

In 2016, the City Council voted to increase the total number of Bloomington firefighters from 87 to 93 in order to staff a second ambulance operating out of the fire department’s headquarters.

“I think for one day we had enough staffing to do that,” West said. “Since then, we have not.”

During last week’s committee of the whole meeting, Eric Hall, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 49, said the number of calls the Bloomington Fire Department has taken has tripled since 1990.

“Back in 2007, we went to our current staffing model of 29 people on duty a day,” Hall said. “Back then, we ran around 8,500 calls (and) today we’re running over 13,000 calls with that same staffing.”

The city has made other efforts to draw more applicants but saw little success.

In 2022, the council amended the city code to allow the fire department to hire certain categories of nurses and physician assistants. Residency requirements also were expanded to allow any applicant or department member to live anywhere in the state of Illinois.

However, neither of these efforts led to an increase in the fire department’s applicant pool, according to city documents.

Although there are 13,000 calls a year, Hall said that amounts to around 26,000 runs, which is when any emergency vehicle leaves a station.

For a single-room fire in a 2,000-square-foot home, 16 firefighters and paramedics will respond, Hall said. But if there is something more severe like an apartment fire, the department could be required to have 30 to 40 crew members respond.

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