The EMS Today Show: From Zero (Education) to Hero

New Castle County (DE) Paramedics Implement an Innovative Pay-as-You-Learn Recruitment/Education Academy

Join A.J. Heightman and New Castle County (DE) Paramedics’ Assistant Chief Chris Johnson for an enlightening 90-minute podcast on the innovative Paramedic Academy implemented by New Castle County (NCC) paramedics and offered in neighboring state Pennsylvania at the nationally recognized Good Fellowship Ambulance and EMS Training Institute, West Chester/Chester County, which pays recruits/student applicants while they train at the Academy.

The podcast details the problems of recruitment, candidate training and paramedic retention being experienced nationwide and how the New Castle County Paramedic System developed their innovative approach to recruitment and retention of employees:

  1. NCC Paramedics conducts intense recruitment efforts over three months targeting a diverse population of New Castle County residents.
  2. They pay a good starting salary and great benefits to each recruit and it starts when they start school at the EMT level. Yes, all recruits, whether they are already EMTs or not, start at the BLS level of education at the Academy so they all learn it the NCC way.
  3. They now average 500-600 applicants per academy.
  4. Their goal is to retain an amazing 20-25 recruits/employees in the 4th academy scheduled to start in January 2022.

Details About the Program

In 2013, NCC EMS, with does ALS response vehicle response to support 22 BLS agencies in the county, looked at the growing needs of the countywide service, its anticipated growth and local paramedic pool of applicants.

There currently is only one paramedic program in Delaware, located at the Delaware Technical and Community College. This program graduates approximately ten students a year. The three county ALS agencies in Delaware constantly make significant efforts to recruit these ten graduating paramedics.

But the Del Tech paramedic program fell well short of the recruitment needs of the paramedic services in the state of Delaware and the recruitment efforts to recruit and hire certified paramedics or paramedic candidates from neighboring states also became a struggle to keep up with the demands of current service needs, let alone anticipated growth.

It was at this point the New Castle County Paramedics, thinking outside the box, made the decision to model an EMS “academy” after the successful New Castle County Police program and include a full paramedic certification program and taking applicants from “zero to hero” in nationally accredited EMS agency.

The Requirements to Apply:

• Three years of experience operating a motor vehicle

• High school diploma or GED

The Application Process Includes:

• Fitness evaluation (push-ups, sit-ups, a one-mile run)

• Written exam (Accuplacer college entrance exam)

• Passing of oral boards

• A comprehensive background investigation

• Passing a medical physical and psychological exam

Accepted applicants are required to sign a five-year service agreement with New Castle County that begins from the date of hire.

About the Program

• The Academy program lasts 12 months

  • NCC EMS has two paramedics assigned full-time to the academy
  • It is a diverse program (recruits range from no experience to EMT certified)

• The first three weeks are intro and held at the NCC police academy

• The remainder of the program is held in West Chester (PA) at Good Fellowship Ambulance and EMS Training Institute

• A typical day: First 30 min involve PT/Classroom sessions /1 hr. for lunch /Classroom sessions/1 hr. of PT to conclude the day.

• The first 5 weeks are for those who need EMT certification.

• Students graduate the program with National Registry EMT & paramedic certifications.

• In addition, college credits are received in conjunction with West Chester University (All they have to do is take three additional classes and they get an Associate Degree in EMS.)

Benefits for Recruits

• Work schedule is Monday-Friday (8am-4pm)

• They have holidays and weekends off

• Overtime for any time above 40 hours

• Their paramedic tuition is paid for by NCC

• All books and class materials are paid for by NCC

• Their uniforms are paid for by NCC and NCC also has them dry cleaned for the students

• All essential equipment is issued to each student (bunker gear, soft body armor, safety glasses, traffic safety vests, boots, rain gear, a stethoscope and a portable radio)

• The have free access to any NCC gym 24 hours a day

• They receive full county benefits

• Vision, dental and additional flex spending programs are available

• The become enrolled in a 30-year pension (plus receive NCC matched deferred compensation) in a 457b Deferred compensation program

• They also receive credit union membership, blood bank membership, life insurance, annual physicals are paid for and performed while working (annually) at a nationally accredited Countywide EMS agency.

Benefits of Hiring ‘Entry Level’/Academy

• Can diversify your organization

• Job opportunities for those that may not have time/money to pay for paramedic school

• Ability to hire for character and qualities you want in a dedicated and driven employee

• Influx a large number of paramedics into our system all at one time

• Career development is available for field providers (reassignment for up to 18 months in another area such as the Paramedic Academy)

About Assistant Chief Christopher A. Johnson, NRP

Assistant Chief Christopher A. Johnson, NRP, was appointed to the New Castle County EMS System in 2002 while attending the Delaware Technical and Community College Paramedic Program as a paramedic candidate where he completed his studies and received the Paramedic Program Outstanding Graduate Award.

Assistant Chief Johnson has held assignments in field operations on Medic 1 (City of Wilmington), Medic 4 (Brandywine Hundred), Medic 2 (New Castle), and Medic 3 (Newark, DE).  

He served as a field training officer (FTO) until his promotion to paramedic sergeant in July 2013.

In May of 2015, Johnson he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and was reassigned to the Special Operations/Administration Branch as the Recruitment, Applicant Processing, and Field Training Coordinator. 

In May of 2020, he was promoted to the rank of senior lieutenant. He was promoted to his current rank of assistant chief in November 2020 and is currently the commander of the Special Operations/ Administration Branch for the New Castle County Paramedics.   

Assistant Chief Johnson is volunteer member of the Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company of Newark where he held the position of deputy chief of EMS for nine years.  

He was a member of the University of Delaware Emergency Care Unit (UDECU), where he served in various roles including coordinator of the student-run organization.

He served as the Emergency Services Coordinator for the Dover International Speedway for four years (2015-2018) where he helped the speedway build their medical response plans for all events including NASCAR and music festivals that saw up to 90,000 attendees. 

He holds an Associate Degree in Paramedic Technology from Delaware Technical and Community College, a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Delaware and is completing the requirements for a Master of Science degree in Management, with a concentration in Organizational Leadership at Wilmington University. 

Assistant Chief Johnson is a graduate of the West Point Command and Leadership Academy sponsored by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, where he was the first non-law enforcement graduate to receive the Chief Harry Wilde Academic Achievement Award for the New Castle County cohort. He currently serves as an instructor with the program.

Assistant Chief Johnson has received several official awards and commendations, including a Distinguished Unit Citation, a Lifesaving Award, and several Pre-hospital Sudden Cardiac Arrest Save Citations.  He was also designated by the Kiwanis Club of Wilmington as the “Paramedic of the Quarter” for the third quarter of 2012.


  • A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P, is editor emeritus of JEMS and an adjunct instructor of Clinical Research and Leadership with the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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