CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A combination of COVID and poor compensation is taking a toll on EMS workers in Citrus County.

That’s why administrators with Nature Coast EMS, the county’s non-profit ambulance provider, say they plan to ask the county for more federal dollars to bring EMS workers’ salaries more in line with others in the area.

Battalion Chief Dan Brady calls the situation very serious.

“It is a dire situation,” Chief Brady said. “Between COVID and the pay issues, we’ll definitely see an interruption in service. So one way or another – with pay rates going up, minimum wage going up – EMS has been severely underpaid for a while.”

Nature Coast EMS has the lowest starting pay of any EMS provider in the Tampa Bay area, with paramedics starting salary at just below $13 an hour. By comparison, Hernando County starts it paramedics at $19.96 an hour. Ocala paramedics start at $20.83 and, if you’re a Sunstar EMS paramedic in Pinellas County, your starting salary is $22.04.

Jeff Umphress, who owns a lawn maintenance company in Citrus County, says he cannot believe first responders are paid so little.

“They’re trained people helping people that are in need,” Umphress said. “I’ve got guys starting with me at $12 an hour that… they start out at $12 an hour – mowing lawns.”

EMS leadership plans to present their case at a 1:30 p.m. county commission meeting on Tuesday. Chief Brady is hoping county leaders will listen to the facts and take action before Nature Coast loses employees to other agencies.

“For example, a neighboring county went up about 56 percent virtually overnight,” said Chief Brady. “And that’s great for them. We are very happy to see EMS workers being paid more than they are now.”