ROCHESTER, N.Y. — As with many careers, many ambulance companies are struggling to retain workers and fill open positions. One recent class of EMT graduates stands out against all others.

Helping people in their worst moments — on their worst day — is something that’s in Julia Fuqua’s heart and soul.

“One of the first days, our instructor looked at us and said You're gonna see these people on the absolute worst day of their life,” said Fuqua. “And you need to look at them with compassion and no judgment because none of that matters.”

Fuqua is part of the newest class of future EMTs at American Medical Response in Rochester.

“The hours are long, but you don't feel like you're here all day,” said trainee Joyce Deng. “It really doesn't feel that long because you're constantly learning, you're constantly doing something and bettering your education here.“

There is something special about this class, which graduated in March. Something unique. There are 10 graduates and all 10 of them are women.

“My mom's a nurse,” said graduate Kanei Stampley. “So I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but not on that side. I wanted to be on the frontline.”

“This is a day for optimism,” said Richard Tantallo, Monroe County director of public safety, who addressed the graduates at their recent ceremony. “Not only for each of you embarking on a new career, but for our community that truly is in need of your skills. And we’ve lived through some troubling times for medical responses.”

As with many careers, there is a shortage of EMTs. During the pandemic, some got sick, some decided to switch jobs or switch careers.

“We’ve lost significant employees just like everybody else has,” said Timothy Frost, AMR regional director.

The city of Rochester contracts with AMR, which has been criticized for ambulance response times. In some cases, responses are delayed and ambulances from outside the city are called into the city to respond to calls. Frost cites the shortage.

“The inability to have staff that working in the street, I would say, that would absolutely affect day-to-day operations,” he said. “You know, if you're expecting to have 'X' amount of ambulances on the road and you can only staff 'Y,' whether it's through work staff shortages or sick-out or any of the other variables, then absolutely it's going to that's going to slow down the capacity to respond.”

Members of the newest class of EMTs are paid for their training through AMR’s Earn While You Learn program. 

“Having the ability to be paid to get have a career start right off the bat is just something that was the best thing that could absolutely happen for me,” said Fuqua.

Ten women are graduating with the guarantee of a job. 

“I’m actually really glad we're all females,” said Deng. “There's a bond that I can't really explain. It seems like we're just a unit, like the she unit.”