By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Imagine that you went to school to qualify for a job that carries the very real possibility you will be saving someone’s life.
Now imagine that the job you went to school for that puts you in the position of possibly saving someone’s life pays $3.50 an hour.
EMTs with the Colfax Rescue Squad currently make $3.50 an hour for an EMT Basic and $4.50 an hour for an IV Tech.
The Colfax Village Board held a discussion of EMT wages in closed session on February 25 prior to the regular village board meeting at 7 p.m.
Jacki Ponto, administrator-clerk-treasurer, reported the next day that the village board had agreed to send the issue to the village’s attorney for review, but there was no report on what the village board planned to offer the EMTs.
Collective bargaining for public employees is now illegal in Wisconsin, so the village board presumably was not discussing collective bargaining strategies in closed session, which was once permissible under the Open Meetings law.
The Colfax Rescue Squad has an annual budget of over $400,000. The Village of Colfax contributes $18,000 toward the budget. The other municipalities served by the Colfax Rescue Squad also pay a per capita annual fee. The rest of the rescue squad’s revenue mainly comes from invoicing for patient services.
The cost of patient services are covered by payments made by the patient, the patient’s insurance company, or Medicare or Medicaid.
Sergeant Eric McCoy of the Colfax Rescue Squad said that the low wages at Colfax “are really beginning to hurt the morale of the EMTs.”
Other agencies are starting to recruit EMTs away from Colfax, he said.
“We need more people, but it’s not enticing to say ‘come here and work for us. You’ll only be making $3.50 an hour,’” McCoy said.
McCoy preferred to not give specifics about the wage proposal discussed by the village board in closed session because he did not want to violate the state’s Open Meetings law or violate any sense of trust with the village board.
“We’re not asking for a whole lot … (not considering) the work we do and the service we provide,” McCoy said.
“We have a really good rescue squad … (but) the money is detrimental, and we are losing good people,” he said.
Some of the Colfax EMTs are at the paramedic level, but they cannot practice as paramedics because Colfax is not rated as a paramedic agency, he noted.
In the past few years, Colfax has lost several paramedics who left to work for other agencies.
McCoy drives from Menomonie to be on-call at Colfax and says it only makes sense for him, considering the high price of gasoline and the cost of meals, that he remains on call for 24 hours at the rescue squad building.
Last year, the Colfax Rescue Squad went out on just under 500 calls. The Colfax Rescue Squad’s response time is under three minutes over 70 percent of the time, McCoy said.
Three minutes is better than many larger rescue squads with a full-time staff, he said.
Twenty-five years ago, the rescue squad was going out on about 180 calls per year.
Colfax EMTs do earn a $1.50/hour differential for day shifts, McCoy said.
Still, either $5 or $6 per hour is less than minimum wage.
If the second ambulance is called out for some reason, EMTs who go out with the second ambulance earn $14.50 an hour (Basic) or $17.50 an hour (IV-Tech) for the time they are out on the run.
The Colfax Rescue Squad is highly regarded by other agencies in the area and by medical staff at local hospitals.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our people,” McCoy said.