DURHAM, NC (WNCN) – Emergency Medical Services agencies across the Triangle are experiencing shortages of staff, including Durham County EMS where more than a quarter of their paramedic positions are vacant.

According to Durham County EMS officials, 20 out of their 78 allotted paramedic positions are vacant.

Mark Lockhart, chief paramedic for Durham County EMS, told CBS 17 on Wednesday that they have been experiencing this shortage for the last couple of years since the pandemic started.

He said right now with 20 paramedic positions vacant, this means there are fewer ambulances available to go to calls.

“Our goal right now is to try to put 19 units on the street during the daytime, but more recently, many times we have 16 to 17 units on the street,” Lockhart said.

As a result, he said that sometimes there is not a medic readily available to be sent to a call.

But Lockhart said this only happens 1 percent of the time, and when this happens a first responder with the fire department will respond or a mutual aid unit from a neighboring county like Wake, Orange, or Person County will respond.

He said high-priority calls will get a medic first.

“Help is going to get there, it just may not get there as quickly as we would like,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said the average response times for January 2022 – March 2022 have increased 24 seconds compared to the same time period one year ago.

He also said that call volume has increased, as there was a 14 percent increase in call volume in 2021 compared to 2020.

While Lockhart said they are working to recruit more paramedics, he said COVID slowed down their training academies over the last couple of years and it’s been difficult for them to build up their staff again.

“Forty years ago, I would’ve never imagined us being at this particular point,” Lockhart said. “I’ve never seen the need this dire.”

Lockhart said that Durham County needs to increase the pay for paramedics to keep up with other counties.

For instance, right now the starting pay for Durham County paramedics is $20.84 an hour, while the starting pay for Wake County paramedics is $28.13 an hour.

“When you look at what we’re asking them to do and how we’re asking them to do it, and what we’re offering them in compensation, it’s not as enticing,” Lockhart said. “All of the agencies in the area are competing for the same labor. We just need to do what we can to make sure that labor stream continues.”

Lockhart said they are hoping Durham County Commissioners will consider a raise for paramedics in the next budget cycle.

CBS 17 reached out to Durham County officials to see if they will consider a raise for Durham County paramedics, but we are still waiting to hear back.