Improving EMS & Fire Department Employment Retention

  • Posted on September 10, 2020

Emergency response jobs are some of the most demanding in the world. Responders often risk their own personal safety and health on a daily basis, while working long shifts that take them away from family and friends. Budgets are often constrained and requirements are rigorous. EMS agencies and fire departments must work hard to retain their top crewmembers in light of increasing turnover rates.

For example, U.S. fire departments face an annual average turnover rate of around 10-20%. EMS agency statistics are even more concerning, with voluntary and overall turnover rates reaching the 20-30% range for EMTs and paramedics, meaning that organizations are replacing almost their entire workforce every four years.

Managers at fire departments and EMS agencies across the nation are learning how to use real-world data to create better work environments, offer more competitive benefits, and deliver more powerful tools for their employees.


Read on to see how ESO can help reduce employee turnover for among fire crews and EMS staff.

Audio Transcript

Darin Inda, Director of Compliance, Universal-Macomb Ambulance:

(00:05) The biggest challenge that I see in the industry is employee retention. We’ve seen a tremendous drop in the amount of clinicians coming into the field and that’s having a trickle-down effect.

(00:12) We use ESO data – operational data, really. We look very closely at employees how many days they work for us. We analyze other EMS systems within the state to try and make sure that our benefits and wages are on par or at least in the same neighborhood as. A lot of that data comes right out of ESO.

Jeff Siarto, System Support Manager, Star EMS:

(00:32) One of the big selling features with ESO was its user friendliness. When you’re taking groups of paramedics a lot were at my age that are coming up and used to doing paper and paperwork and state reporting has become such an important part, not as important as taking care of patients but it’s still a requirement of the job. Having a system available that allows that process to be easy was very important to our crews.

Scott Brownell, Business Application Administrator, Thurston County Medic One:

(01:01) We were using another platform prior. One of our shortfalls was the ability of the user to document efficiently, and this has definitely solved that problem immensely for us. Which, in return returns us with much better data

Jeff Siarto:

(01:15) There are a lot of items within the software itself that make it very user friendly. So, when you’re able to touch fields that have defaults that pop up it – It comes in from the right side of the screen. Or, based on your history, what i love about – In certain fields, it has defaults of the items that are used most often in your agency. There’s less typing involved. So, before you wrote a lot of reports and you didn’t really see the data. But now, that you have access to it, it helps for people to learn or improve their skills and realize there’s not just patient care. There’s what happens to that patient years down the road.

What Challenges Do EMS Agencies Face in Their Retention Efforts?

Prehospital health care has always been a challenging job, but with the recent pandemic, the demands have become especially difficult to bear. In addition to the usual on-the-job stressors and risks, EMS professionals were literally risking their lives from potential exposure, multiple times, on a daily basis. With high burn rates for PPE, EMS agencies had to operate under what the CDC called “crisis strategy,” reusing protective gear and masks and facing health risks from that as well.

Before the COVID-19, however, EMS agencies still faced significant job retention issues. A recent study of turnover rates for EMS agencies found the top causes for voluntary turnover to be “career change,” followed by dissatisfaction with pay, and a return to school. For involuntary turnover rates, the most frequent cause was poor performance.

What Retention Challenges Do Fire Departments Have?

Similarly, fire departments facing high rates of turnover see the negative impact directly. Without veteran firefighters in your department, it’s almost impossible for a department to grow and progress. Beyond the most obvious aspect of situational awareness and expertise when responding to calls, veteran firefighters are vital in moving your department forward in training, mentoring newbies, passing down historical knowledge and processes, and building on community relationships.

Fire departments face many challenges in compensation and benefits, and are often at the mercy of other committees and entities tasked with cutting budgets. As they are asked to “do more with less,” it can make it more difficult to retain experienced team members who may look to bigger cities with better pay, or to retirement. Volunteer departments (which make up almost 85% of the industry) have it even harder, with little to no monetary ways to retain their firefighters.

How Better Software Can Improve Onboarding and Retention

The good news is that today’s top software for Fire and EMS offer numerous tools that are easy to use and make a team member’s job more efficient, and, as a result, increase job satisfaction. Less busy work and fewer errors allow employees to focus on the elements of their jobs they enjoy the most, or spend time in training, personal development, or much-needed R&R.

Intuitive software that is easy to use and designed by people who have actually worked in the field means a more productive shift for a firefighter or medic. Even veterans who came up using paper records for all sorts of communications begin to embrace new software tools when they make sense and make their jobs easier. Newbies can also be onboarded more easily into station or agency procedures, and standardized interfaces – such as checklists, progressive worksheets, and online databases – help reduce the learning curve.

Improving Fire and EMS Agency Operations

Additionally, software (and the data it collects) helps management ensure that wages are on par with industry peers, and that their teams have the specific training and equipment needed for the most common calls in their communities. Software can also streamline the employee management process, making it easier for team members to self-serve with insight into their own hours, awareness of open shifts, and more efficient communication with management.

Additionally, using software tools improves the quality of data a fire department or EMS agency can collect based on its incidents and calls. Rather than returning to the station to reenter handwritten notes, or having to enter data multiple times, information is stored and shared directly from the call, for a wide range of uses and analytics. This type of data not only helps you check on the performance of your team, but is useful in applying for grants, conducting QA/QI projects, and telling your “data story” to members of the public.

Better Employee Retention, Data, and Reporting With ESO

Modern software tools for EMS and fire departments can truly revolutionize your station operations, positively impacting your employees and making their jobs more enjoyable and fulfilling. From next-generation patient care reports and more efficient incident reporting tools, to asset management and HR interfaces, ESO software is designed specifically for first responders and their specific needs.

Removing the obstacles such as busy work, clunky software, and steep learning curves when it comes to new procedures can allow your veterans to focus on the things they enjoy most about their jobs, and feel better about sticking around for years to come.

Learn more about the full suite of software tools for EMS and Fire, or contact ESO to schedule a demo.