MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Emergency medical service providers are putting out their own call for help.

The pandemic, low wages and lack of recruitment are among the factors being blamed for a major shortage of EMTs and paramedics across the state.

While the shortage is affecting both private and public EMS services, smaller providers like Middleville-based Thornapple Township Emergency Services have been especially hard hit.

Chief Randy Eaton is in charge of three full-time and 30 part-time first responders who provide EMS and fire protection to some 9,500 residents in and around Middleville. The department handles between 1,200 and 1,300 calls a year, most of them medical emergencies. Lately, the chief and his staff have been run ragged by extra shifts.

“Yeah, it’s taxing on people,” he said.

The issue: not enough staff. The department is down one full-time EMS responder out of what’s usually four and could use another 10 part-timers.

“I would say we’re near being on the ropes,” Capt. Chad Klutman, who runs the department’s EMS program. “If we were to lose two or three paramedics, two or three EMTs, that would definitely be a game changer on how we operate our business every day.”

The competition among to keep the ambulances running is tough. This week, the Thornapple Township Board approved across-the-board pay increases to help attract and retain staff.

Thornapple Emergency Services is not alone. According to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, there are about 1,000 openings for EMTs and paramedics that need to be filled.

The shortage began years ago. The pandemic only made things worse.

The problem has put a major strain on the emergency system.

“That ambulance is coming from further distance, which could be five more minutes, could be 25 more minutes; it could be from two counties away,” Klutman said.

The ambulance association is asking legislators to step in and provide more money for salaries and to increase attraction, retention and training efforts.

“You see posters about people becoming a firefighter, becoming a construction worker, becoming a nurse. How many do you see becoming a paramedic, becoming an EMT?” Klutman said.

It’s not just about dollars and cents. It’s about life and death.

“We’re on a really, really difficult course and without some kind of intervention, I don’t think we’ve seen quite the high water mark yet of that could potentially happen,” Klutman said. “It comes down to survival of the services, and possibly even the citizens that we’re charged with taking care of.”