FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. Fayette County Emergency Medical Services has 10 full-time paramedics.
Five of them recently interviewed for jobs paying upwards of $47,000 a year with Rural/Metro ambulance service in Shelby County, said Sam McKnight, Fayette's EMS director.
"I can't be mad at them when they're offering that kind of money. That's more than I'm making," McKnight said.
Starting pay for a paramedic in Fayette is about $35,000 a year, depending on the numbers of hours clocked, McKnight said.
And Rural/Metro also just ended a $10,000 signing bonus.
Starting July 1, Rural/Metro, provider of ambulances and emergency medical services for much of Shelby County, will go from running six ambulances to 12, and more ambulances require more paramedics. So the company is busily hiring 22 additional paramedics.
With a shortage of paramedics across the Mid-South, Rural/Metro is willing to pay top-dollar to recruits. And Fayette County paramedics are taking note of the company's $10,000-plus pay differential.
"I know we can't get to what Rural/Metro is paying, but we need to get close," said Mc- Knight, who has been lobbying the Fayette County Commission for a raise for paramedics.
"I'm not asking for raises just to get more money. I'm asking for raises because the job market is about to kill me," he said.
Rural/Metro began "aggressively" recruiting paramedics several weeks ago in anticipation of the expanded Shelby County contract, confirmed spokeswoman Nikki Gast.
The company is currently "10 to 12 short" of their obligation of 22 new paramedics. Executives are confident that they will be fully staffed by July 1, said Gast, who acknowledged that meeting that goal could mean grabbing paramedics from neighboring counties.
"We have very competitive benefits and that's what you need to attract employees," she said, adding that she did not like to use the term "stealing."
Losing paramedics to other municipalities is a regional problem, said Bobby Storey, DeSoto County emergency services director.
"You even have the hospitals hiring paramedics to work there," he said. "And with Memphis right across the state line, they pay more and we do lose some firefighters and paramedics to Memphis."
DeSoto County now requires its paramedics and emergency medical technicians to sign two-year contracts when they are hired, he said.
"We're just trying to ensure that after we pay for them to go to school that the taxpayers get their money's worth," Storey said.
Storey said he talks to the new recruits about the advantages of working in a smaller city, which includes moving through the ranks faster.
"In larger cities you might be on the truck 24/7, but down here it will not be that long where you are in the office and not on runs all the time," Storey said. "We know we can't match the salary of larger departments, but we just try to tell them the facts and benefits of working down here in a smaller environment."