City hired 13th female paramedic this summer, highest number since inception

(Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Services (EMS) Brett Johnson, paramedic for the Virginia Beach EMS)
(Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Services (EMS) Brett Johnson, who has been a paramedic for the Virginia Beach EMS for five years)

The City of Virginia Beach now has the most paid women paramedics it has ever had, thanks to a group of new hires this summer, which included one female.

The Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services hired six new paramedics this summer, beginning in July. The department employs 32 medics total, 13 of whom are women. It also has 60 volunteer paramedics, 19 of whom are women.

“We initiated hired career medics in 2004,” Susan Palmer, retention officer for EMS, said in a phone interview. Palmer joined the department in 2001. “Since we implemented career medics, this is the highest number of women we’ve had on staff.”

The six medics hired by the City this year are:

•Dan Kiernan

•Nick DiCaprio

•Jason Thurston

•Erol Aydar

•Julia Blythe

•Rusty Blow

Kiernan will begin Aug. 22, Palmer said. Starting salary for Virginia Beach paramedics is  $49,044 annually, according to Palmer. The City employed 12 women medics last year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 220,000 emergency medical technicians and paramedics were employed in 2015, and 33 percent of these were women.

Most paramedics hired by Virginia Beach are previous volunteers, Palmer said. The City hires paramedics based on which candidates are the best, not based on race or gender, Palmer said. She believes the rising number of paid women medics in the city is due to more women coming forward to volunteer and then apply to be paramedics.

“I think more women are trying to do it (become paramedics),” Palmer said. “I, myself, have just been released as a paramedic in the field. It was a career choice I chose to go into on my own.”

Having more employed female paramedics in Virginia Beach is a positive thing, she said.

“I think it opens doors for women to be able to come in,” she said.

(Courtesy of Virginia Beach EMS, paramedics Susan Palmer (left) and Patti Singleton)
(Courtesy of Virginia Beach EMS, paramedic Patti Singleton (left) and Susan Palmer)

Brett Johnson, who has been in EMS for a decade and has been a Virginia Beach paramedic for five years, said in a phone interview the emergency-response culture is shifting. 

“I think it shows there is a definite change in the culture of what used to be a predominantly male field, like firefighting and being a paramedic,” Johnson said.

She’s grateful to have been supported by other volunteers and paramedics while she attended school to receive her certification, she said.

“The Virginia Beach EMS has definitely been a second family to me,” Johnson said. “People in the volunteer side or career side have pushed me and helped me along. I’m glad I can be that person to help motivate other females now in the department to go get the certification.”

EMS is free to Virginia Beach residents and visitors. The department oversees 10 volunteer rescue squads and more than 1,000 people participate in the volunteer rescue-squad system. The department has an annual budget of $10 million.


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