Denison Fire Rescue is experiencing delays in on-boarding and acclimating new paramedics amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


Fire officials said this week there have been some delays in getting the latest class of paramedics oriented in the city’s procedures as the department has focused much of its resources on the health threats posed by the disease.


“With this crisis we are in, that is going to be delayed a bit because we are spending our resources on things to stay ahead of the COVID(-19) situation,” Denison Fire Chief Gregg Loyd said. “So that takes away from their ability to spend that time in orientation.”


In 2019, the city announced plans to hire a private firm to fill the department’s paramedic services amid a shortage of workers. At the time, city officials attributed this in part to firefighters and paramedics being pulled away to larger departments, who can offer higher pay.


Following public backlash, the city pulled back from these plans and instead announced it would be training a new wave of paramedics through classes at Grayson College to fill the city’s need.


In the interim, the city has contracted with private firm LifeNet to augment paramedic services.


The training courses were discussed briefly Tuesday during a meeting of the Grayson College Board of Trustees.


Debbie Smarr, GC dean of planning and institutional effectiveness, said that all of the DFR students completed the six-month fast-track paramedic course back in March.


“Our only problem we have run into with the COVID(-19) is that the testing centers closed down,” she said. “And so, the students who graduated in March have not been able to test and complete their registry.”


However, Smarr said she has received word that many agencies are in the process of reopening for testing.


“So, they do classwork and they’ve done the rotations where they go to the hospital and do rotations and do ride outs with the fire department,” Loyd said. “So, they’ve finished all that and are done with the academic and clinical parts of the class. After that, they come back on shift and begin to schedule their state testing to be paramedics.”


Loyd acknowledged that there have been delays due to privately owned testing sites closing temporarily during the COVID-19 health crisis, but said it is being minimized due to nature of the testing schedule.


While the first group of tests did not see much delay, the group of paramedics that need to have retests are finding limited availability due to these closures.


Of the nine new paramedics, Loyd said four passed on their first attempt. He noted that retesting is not unusual in the profession.


Despite these delays, the nine additional people have been able to still assist on the firefighting side. This in turn has allowed the department to cut back on the overtime hours it has seen with a smaller staff.


“Those people are still certified firefighters,” Loyd said. “... If we are running fire calls, there is absolutely no difference on a fire call between the guy who is in paramedic class and the guy who is not.“


Loyd said there is not a set time frame on when the department will be able to end its agreement with LifeNet and rely on its own staff for these services. This will all depend on how quickly the new class can acclimate to Denison.


“Coming out of school, for the lack of a better way to express it, they've got the book knowledge, but they certainly lack the experience,” he said. “Given the decisions they will have to make regarding healthcare, they will have to go through an additional orientation to get familiar with the medical protocols that our medical patrol doctor has in place.


“So they will have to go through all that still before we can let them go on an independent way where they could be like a lead medic on an ambulance sort of thing.”


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.