Local EMS departments struggle with staffing, Marklein looks to make exam optional

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

The State Senate recently passed a bill that would make a national exam for EMR’s optional, in hopes to ease staffing difficulties for rural EMS departments in the state.

Senate Bill 89 was originally proposed by Sen. Howard Marklein, a Republican from Spring Green, with the idea of making the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam optional for Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) in the state. Marklein says that doing so would eliminate obstacles in recruitment for rural, volunteer departments. It’s now up to the Assembly to consider.

The bill requires that EMR’s following and complete state Department of Health Services (DHS) training courses and test requirements, but that DHS cannot require the national exam to allow individuals to serve as an emergency responder.

The bill leaves the requirement of the exam up to individual departments.

Tyler Tisdale, the new EMS director in the village of Arena said while the bill would help, it isn’t a perfect fix.

“It would help, but it doesn’t solve the main issue of recruiting volunteers,” said Tisdale. “It’s great to have EMR’s, but we still need at least one EMT with an EMR to minimally staff the ambulance while maintaining a legal crew.”

Tisdale said the Arena volunteer department faces a similar issue to many other rural departments across the state face—recruitment and compensation.

“We have the same problem that is rampant across the state of recruiting people to become volunteer EMT’s. We are aware of the time commitment one takes on when volunteering to be an EMT; although, it is a great cause,” said Tisdale. “These individuals give up so much of their time in an instant to respond to an emergency and in many situations, their efforts are not compensated as they should be.”

Plain EMS member Tracy Brent said their volunteer department faces the same recruiting issues especially during day time hours, but does not support the legislation until an alternative testing procedure can be put in place.

Brent suggests providing more incentives for residents of rural communities to volunteer, such as tax credits or signing and retention bonuses.

“Helping others in need, especially those in your community, is one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do,” said Brent. “There are no words to describe how you feel after you’ve rendered aid to a person in need, saved someone’s life, or were simply a positive presence on someone’s worst day. Choosing to join is a decision you will never regret.”

Marklein said his meetings with EMS departments across the state, including Plain were the inspiration for the proposed bill.

“A couple of years ago, I hosted four EMS Summits, including one in Plain, in response to growing recruitment and retention challenges throughout rural Wisconsin. I learned about several obstacles, including the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam that was holding back qualified, talented, dedicated people from serving our communities,” said Marklein.

“Right in our own backyard, we have people who have completed all of the coursework, hands-on training and can save your life. But they can’t pass a test that contains questions that do not related to life in Wisconsin. Our bill makes the NREMT exam optional and allows the local EMS department to decide whether to require it based on their own needs.”