Private Ambulance Services

I will start this topic off by saying that the title does sound like a generalization for all private ambulance services. I do not mean it to be. It is simply my experience with two private ambulance services here in Iowa.

When I first entered the field of EMS I was quite excited for 2 reasons. The first reason is because I wanted to help people in there times of dire need of help. I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone I came in contact with as an EMS professional. The second reason is because it looked like a lot more fun than nursing. I was, at the time, a CNA and taking prereqs for nursing school.

I finished my initial EMT training in 1995, shortly after high school graduation. I was a volunteer EMT for 2 local municipal services, and a volunteer firefighter for one of them. It was, for the most part, a great experience. I also found myself working as a EMT/Security officer at a nearby gaming establishment.

After 2 1/2 years I decided it was time to go back to school and make a career of EMS. I did just that and received my Paramedic certification in November of 1999. I had done some other college and EMT-I training in 1998. When I was done, I had a job lined up at a private ambulance service in Des Moines. The hiring process was a snap. I called and asked if they were hiring, they asked me to come fill out an application for employment. The next day I went to their location, filled out the application and was immediately (without interview) given a W4 form and asked when I could start. Wow, here i was, fresh out of school and already starting my "new career"!

During my employment at that private ambulance service, I experienced a lot of sad realities. I found myself working up to 9 24hr shifts back-to-back, sleeping in the ambulance bay (because it was where the beds were), working in ambulances with several hundred thousand miles on the odometers and in poor mechanical condition. I even sat for 3 days at the Iowa State Fair in a 1974 ambulance with no air conditioning. It was over 90 degrees every one of those days. I had several heat related emergencies that we transported to a hospital nearby and really had no ability to remove them from the hot environment. The service provided no continuing education hours to keep my certification current, nor reimbursement of the same. The ambulances were equipped with very old and some non-working equipment. On top of the poor working conditions, I was sometimes not paid on time. I once went over a month without a paycheck with the promise of every time I came in the next time, it would be waiting for me. After being suspended for 3 day because I would not work a holiday shift in which I was not scheduled for, I resigned. A couple years later, that service went out-of-business and still owes several ex-employees money, me being one of them.

My next job was at yet another private ambulance service with some of the same problems. Those problems include bad equipment, including ambulances in poor mechanical condition and several hundred thousand miles, very poor middle management, and inadequate continuing education. This one was slightly better because even though the pay was far below the national average, I was always paid on time. Where I work, for this service, is a remote location of the main location as we are a contract service for a city that does not have their own EMS transport services, yet.

With the municipal services I was on, we had modern equipment, ambulances in good mechanical shape and well maintained, and continuing education was provided. Now, this was a volunteer service, but I know people who are on paid municipal services who not only have their minimum continuing education provided, but they also have better salaries and benefits than the two private ambulance services that I worked/work for.

In closing I would like to offer some advice to new grads, or anyone looking for new employment in EMS. Compare and contrast salary and benefits with each place you are considering. If you know someone who works for that service, ask them about their experience. You do not want to be miserable where you work. It's not worth it. EMS is a stressful enough profession without having to be stressed by your employer on top of it. If it's a private service (especially in Iowa), be leery. Ask to see the equipment, crew quarters, and ambulance odometers. Don't get yourself stuck on a dark road, in the middle of a winter night, stranded in a clunker ambulance because your employer doesn't care enough about their own reputation to provide you with DEPENDABLE tools to help you make money for THEM!

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