Despite pushback from the firefighters' union, the Orlando Fire Department on Friday inducted 23 civilian paramedics, a response to the city's growing population and demand for emergency medical services, the department said.
Among the 23 hires are 14 women, a record number for an OFD graduating class, according to the release.
The new hires will help by beefing up staffing during peak hours, when emergency call volumes climb, the agency said.
The hiring decision put OFD and the firefighter's union at odds when first announced in 2017. Union president Ronald Glass at the time argued the department should be hiring more firefighters, who can provide medical services and respond to fires.
But the department reiterated its position in a news release announcing the inductions Friday, saying the new hires "will not replace existing firefighters" and instead will help balance the workload.
Hiring the paramedics cost the city about $3 million, according to OFD spokeswoman Ashley Papagni. That's about 50 percent less than what it would cost to add the same number of firefighters, she said.
About 30 percent of the city's medical transports are handled by the private ambulance company American Medical Response. OFD handles the remaining 70 percent—about 28,000 patient transports per year, according to the agency.
The new civilian model comes as the city's rising population leads to about a 3 to 5 percent increase in medical calls per year, Papagni said.
The paramedics will work 12-hour shifts, she said, supplementing the department's 11 rescues with six additional units that are used only for medical calls.