On Call: Recruiting, retaining staff key for Cloquet, Carlton emergency services

While the two emergency services are staffed differently, they both grapple with attracting and retaining staff. This is Part 2 of a three-part series.

EMT checks over fire engine.
Firefighter Mason Blankenship does checks on Engine 1 on March 29 at the Cloquet Area Fire District.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

CLOQUET — It's no secret the job market is tough for employers these days.

That goes for emergency service providers as well. Officials at the Carlton Ambulance Service and the Cloquet Area Fire District are grappling with staff retention and recruitment, despite each outfit being staffed differently.

The Carlton service is a volunteer service, or paid-on-call staffing model, and made up of many college students. The proposal that Carlton officials favor would change the current staffing model to include a full-time ambulance manager and a full-time paramedic.

The service has enough volunteers, but the makeup of college students creates some specific challenges. Weekdays and the summer are tougher times to make sure the service has people available, which Chief Derek Wolf said is due to the nature of college students’ schedules. Having a full-time ambulance manager and a full-time paramedic during the week is the proposal officials believe would alleviate that scheduling problem.

Over in Cloquet, the CAFD is also fully staffed, but Chief Jesse Buhs and CAFD Assistant Chief Corey Larson said they have noticed fewer applicants when the district has attempted to fill openings.


Cloquet Interiors fire
Two Cloquet firefighters on an aerial platform spray water onto the fire at Cloquet Interiors in 2018.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Larson shared that when he was testing for becoming a paramedic seven years ago, there were over 300 people looking for jobs with zero vacancies. A recent hiring coalition in the Northland brought in only 60 applicants for open positions, according to Larson.

Buhs said it is a trend the district has seen with fewer people interested in the field, not only for new applicants but also burnout for current staff.

Jones explained some of the reasons as to why there has been a decrease in staff in the field is due to increased training and job requirements and overall fatigue.

Compared to years prior, Jones said the requirements have increased to the point where people need 180 hours of training or two years of service to become a paramedic.

EMT checks backpack.
Firefighter/EMT Mason Blankenship looks into his air bag as he preps his ambulance March 29 at the Cloquet Area Fire District.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jones said this is affecting the volunteer side more so than employed staff, as people are just not as interested in putting their time toward it as they once were.

Paramedics are also asked to do more than they have before and are not just moving patients but treating and diagnosing them, as well.

Fatigue and lack of interest in the work has affected not only the ambulance service, but also health care in general, leading to workforce shortages.

The Minnesota Emergency Services Regulatory Board tracks emergency medical services certification trends, and in 2021, 4,474 certifications expired while only 1,558 certifications were issued.


The last time more people received certifications than let their certifications lapse was in 2018, according to the Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board, with 3,816 new certifications compared to 3,334 that lapsed.

According to a 2023 Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board study, 64.8% of people leaving the industry were under age 40. The study also notes that 39% of those leaving the field referenced low pay as a reason for their decision.

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The pandemic played a role in this as well for those who are in the volunteer service, which Jones said impacted many volunteer workers.

“This is a part-time job, and it was a good way to decide ‘today is the day to be done,'" he said.

Cloquet Firefighter/EMT Jackie Yogerst checks over the supplies in an ambulance Aug. 9, 2021.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

To increase staff retention, Buhs said the district has looked at mental health support for paramedics responding to serious calls.

Ambulance paramedics see a vast array of situations, ranging from car crashes and drug overdoses to much more, which Buhs said takes its toll on employees.

Buhs and Larson said the CAFD is also looking at getting into local schools and providing classes.

“Getting young people excited for the career — use that as a recruitment tool,” Larson said.


EMT looks over his ambulance.
Firefighter/EMT Mason Blankenship checks over his ambulance March 29 at the Cloquet Area Fire District.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Editor Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten contributed to this report.

Dylan is a former reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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