DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Almost a quarter of the paramedic positions in Durham County are vacant and it’s hurting response times to some emergencies. 

According to Durham County EMS officials, 19 out of their 78 allotted paramedic positions are vacant. 

As a result, during peak times between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., Durham County has had about 16 to 17 medic units on the street for the last few months, when they said they strive to have at least 19 medic units available during this time. 

Sometimes they do not have medics available in the county to send to all emergencies, and they must dispatch a medic from a neighboring county such as Wake, Orange or Person County. 

No one with Durham County EMS would do an interview with CBS 17. 

But in an email, officials said high priority calls– which include serous and life-threatening emergencies– are never held and a medic is always immediately dispatched or rerouted to these calls. Officials said there can be a slight delay when the call is transferred. 

When it comes to low priority calls, which include sprains, cuts and stomach aches, officials said these calls are sometimes held until a medic is available to send. 

According to data CBS 17 obtained, it showed that for the final quarter of the 2021-22 fiscal year, the average response time to low priority calls was 10 minutes and 42 seconds. The county said their overarching goal is to respond to 90 percent of calls in 9 minutes or less. 

Officials even said that in some instances, low priority call patients are having to wait 20-32 minutes for an ambulance to respond. Holding low acuity calls have happened almost daily over the last several weeks, officials said.  

So what is the county doing to address this shortage? 

Durham County Commissioners recently passed a pay increase for paramedics.  

This increase that goes into effecit in August, takes the starting hourly rate for paramedics from $20.84 to $28.25. Officials said the current staff will receive this rate and a multiplier based on their years of service to determine their final salary. 

Durham County EMS officials added that the county needs to not only fill these current vacant positions, but that more paramedic positions need to be created due to the increase in call volume and the population growth in the county. 

CBS 17 told people at Rivals Barbershop in downtown Durham about the shortage of paramedics and the impact its having on ambulance response times.  

Many were surprised and concerned to hear about this issue.  

“It has to be fixed, because people’s lives are on the line,” said S.T. Wagstaff, who lives in Durham. 

“I know that we have to have patience because there is a shortage of workers, but at the same time too, that little bit of difference in response times can cost someone’s life,” said Khedron Mims, who owns Rivals Barbershop. 

Mims said he would like to see more effort by Durham County to get the word out about the shortage of paramedics. 

“We need to let people out there know there are jobs in these fields so they can get the proper training,” Mims said. 

“We’re advertising that we’re one of the best cities to live in, but I don’t think we really have enough helping hands to go around,” Wagstaff said. 

Durham County officials said they are working on getting the word out about the vacant paramedic positions on the county’s website and on social media. 

To apply for a paramedic position, click here.