Jackie Wadley has been in the ambulance business since 1983 when he started working for his father, James, right out of high school.
James had an ambulance service in McAlester and a couple of funeral homes and wanted to pare down his work load.
The Wadleys moved to Purcell in 1974 from McAlester. Jackie was in the third grade.
“I graduated from high school in May of 1983 and by October was an EMT.”
It was a grueling time going to school for the young high school graduate. The only Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) school available at the time was in Antlers, a three hour drive from Purcell.
“For 15 weeks I went back and forth two days a week to go to school,” Wadley said. “We had the ambulance service in McAlester so I would drive down to Antlers and attend class on Tuesday, stay in McAlester Wednesday and go back to class on Thursday and then come home.”
Jackie went back to school in 1996 to become an Intermediate EMT.
December 1, 2003 Jackie and his sister Janie purchased the ambulance service from David Wadley.
After David bought the business Jackie and Janie actually ran it for him before making the purchase.
At that time Wadleys had three ambulances. They now have eight. Five in Purcell, two in Wynnewood and one in Stratford.
Jackie reports they have 50 employees counting full and part-time workers.
And that is the most challenging aspect of running the ambulance service. Finding good employees.
“It’s hard to find good EMTs and paramedics,” Wadley says. “We’re really no different than the hospital, the police and the fire department. We’re so close to Oklahoma City where people can drive up the road and make 1/3 more money. It’s just not that far of a drive.”
And its not just the Wadleys that are having a difficult time finding workers.
“EMSA in Oklahoma City is offering a $20,000 sign-on bonus and not getting anyone,” Wadley said. “The OKC Fire Department is offering a $5,500 sign-on bonus. I’m not sure how the fire department is doing but from talking with EMSA people its tough. With COVID and the vaccine mandates, people just aren’t wanting to get into the medical field.”
To make the case in point, there is a nation-wide shortage of nurses and basic EMTs.
Wadley reported in 2020 there were 293,000 EMTs in the country. In 2021 that number has dropped to 184,000.
“We lost 100,000 EMTs that didn’t renew their license,” he said. “In 2020 we had 110,000 paramedics and in 2021 the number is down to 67,000. There are that many that didn’t renew their license and I think when the new numbers come out in January it’ll be even worse.”
Wadley reports the way they keep their paramedics is they send them to school and have them sign a two year contract.
Jackie currently has five in paramedic school.
Wadley knows what year and the details about the worst accident he has had to work.
He worked at the World Trade Center in 2001 and the next year was the horrific accident on I-35 during a construction project that resulted in six fatalities.
“It was in 2002 when a family of five from Nebraska were killed in one vehicle and a woman from Tishomingo was killed in the same accident only in a different vehicle. And three of them from Nebraska were children.
“That’s always the worst. They haven’t even had a start on life,” the veteran EMT said.
Wadley reports two of the five trucks he has in Purcell are manned 24 hours a day. And on Monday-Friday another ambulance is manned for 12 hours giving him three crews.
If they get another call Jackie, Janie and Kathleen Heck can be up and in the truck in within five minutes.
The average response time for Wadleys?
“We are out the door in three to five minutes (after a call) but the on-scene time varies due to where the call is,” Wadley said.
They make between 3,000 and 3,500 runs a year and have six bedrooms for crews in the back of their building on Washington Street in Purcell.
“People have said that we don’t make that many calls but I tell them I have two prisons, four nursing homes and an assisted living center. Most towns have only one nursing home and some not even one,” he concluded.
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