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St. Paul’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Academy Attracts Minority Youth to EMS, Firefighting Careers

By Megan Volger
August 10, 2009

In 2008, only 28 percent of America’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics were women and less than 25 percent were of color. In Minnesota, 80 percent of paramedics and EMTs in 1993 were white males and, according to Inver Hills Community College instructor Dave Page, over the past sixteen years this number has remained “scarily the same.”

The lack of cultural diversity in hospitals and firehouses is damaging to cities because it prevents minority groups from getting the help and care they need. Similar cultural backgrounds allow EMTs to better calm their patients because they permit patients to relate to and better trust their helpers. In addition, language barriers slow treatment and waste precious time during emergencies. If there is not a shared language between EMTs and patients, then EMTs must use hand signals to communicate, which are less specific and can create problems through misinterpretation.

Non-white individuals make up 33 percent of the population of St. Paul according to the 2000 U.S. Census; women make up 51.6 percent. Thus, says St. Paul Councilmember Melvin Carter III, “St. Paul firefighters are called on everyday to assist people from different cultures, who speak different languages and practice different religions – and the clock is always ticking.” In order to maintain its self-declared premier status, St. Paul’s fire department needs to improve the diversity of its firemen, EMTs and paramedics to better reflect the cultural makeup of the region they serve.


As an extension of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s “Ready for School, Ready for Life” initiative, St. Paul created the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Academy to increase diversity within EMS-related careers. Proposed by Fire Chief Tim Bulter and his department over a month ago, the academy targets youth ages 18 to 24 who are from low-income households. These youth tend to be from underrepresented and non-white communities. Sixteen of the 22 students enrolled in the summer program are female and all are of color.

The academy is made up of two ten-week programs that will pay forty young people $7.50 per hour for up to 25 hours per week to earn their EMS certificates. After successful completion of the program, participants are then eligible to take the EMT certificate exam. This exam is a requirement to become a St. Paul firefighter and for future paramedic training. Certified EMTs can also work at hospitals, medical organizations, municipalities, assisted living facilities, factories, with paramedics and fire departments. The first program began July 6 and the second begins in early September.


The present economy has made entering the new job market nearly impossible. Young people with limited funds and experience have found it especially difficult to find the time or money necessary for the training to jump onto a viable career path. The EMS academy remedies this problem by supplementing a free education with a part-time income. Academy graduates are able to obtain life'saving skills and compete for high paying jobs in health care, education and the fire service. In 2008, about 80 percent of EMTs and paramedics earned between $19,000 and $49,000 a year.

The academy also provides well-trained applicants for growing professions in the United States. From 2006 to 2016, EMS and paramedic professions are expected to grow nearly 18 percent. 1,012 EMT and paramedic and over 61,000 general health care practitioner job openings are projected to be created over the next ten years. Skilled individuals are needed to fill these positions. The EMS Academy trains qualified youth to enter these professions while it works to increase the percentage of minority EMTs, paramedics and firefighters.


The EMS Academy functions as a collaboration between St. Paul, Ramsey County and Inver Hill and Century Community Colleges. The St. Paul Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, The Otto Bremer Foundation, Allina Medical Transport, Fire Fighters United of St. Paul, the Fire Supervisors Association and the St. Paul NAACP provided funding for the initial program. St. Paul city council members Carter, Kathy Lantry, Russ Stark and Pat Harris also supported the program by designating a portion of their Community Organizational Partnership Program (COPP) funds to the academy.

Sponsors have generated $50,000 to cover the training and hourly wage of the Academy’s summer and fall participants. However, Page emphasizes that the EMS Academy is still a pilot project and more funding is needed to continue and expand its positive impact. Popularity for the program is great, over a hundred individuals attended the first EMS academy orientation, so much should be done to keep the academy alive.