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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

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