LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (KABC) -- The need for qualified paramedics at Riverside County/CalFire stations is urgent.
The shortfall has local leaders like Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Jeffries concerned.
"While the fire engine will respond to a medical aid or traffic collision without a paramedic, they will send another nearby fire engine that has a paramedic on board. So it's just a delay, so the initial impact is to the residents not having that paramedic," Jeffries said.
According to Jeffries, there are 120 open paramedic positions in the county equating to a 40% vacancy rate.
Nationally, many emergency response agencies are dealing with paramedic shortages, but Jeffries believes CalFire's regulatory and HR structure limits their ability to make quick changes.
"CalFire not only wants you to be a paramedic for CalFire, but you also have previous firefighting experience," he said.
Riverside County is pushing CalFire to make changes while working to close the gap by recruiting and training potential paramedics.
Jeffries say despite having a paramedic class graduate, they weren't able to get them hired by CalFire.
"Not one could be hired by CalFire because of their standards, but they could be hired by every nearby city around us," Jeffries said.
The state fire agency is acutely aware of the shortage across the state.
In response, CalFire says it will hold 18 fire academies in the new year - the most it's ever done. It's also changed the application process for paramedic candidates who can now apply year around.
"We are taking paramedics, like AMR, they can come with no firefighting experience, but what we do is we bring them in. We hire them as they apply, and we send them to those firefighter academies," said Battalion Chief Richard Cordova.
Additionally, CalFire has hired 13 new paramedics to staff Riverside County fire stations starting in January.
"It's not a hundred of them but its 13, and it's a start. We can get them moving and getting out there to start serving and protecting the public," Cordova said.
For now, Riverside County/CalFire is covering its bases with overtime and shuffling of paramedics to ensure the public safety.
"CalFire is a huge and wonderful organization to be a firefighter for," said Jeffries, who is also former volunteer Riverside County Fire Department captain.
He hopes others will think about joining their ranks as a paramedic and firefighter.