Q & A with Barry Bachenheimer
Barry Bachenheimer was in college when he first penned Please Don't Dance in My Ambulance. Years later he discovered the hidden gem in his college papers and published his prose, much to the delight of his children and other young fans.
What is your background in EMS?
I have had a life-long interest in EMS, starting when I watched Emergency! on TV as a child. That led to a 25-plus-year career in EMS, mostly as a volunteer.
In 1986, I joined the Milltown (NJ) Rescue squad as a cadet and obtained my EMT certification. In 1988, I joined the East Brunswick Rescue Squad and also went off to college at the University at Albany (NY) where I joined Five Quad, the all-student run volunteer ambulance.
While in college, I took paramedic classes and obtained my AEMT certification and rode for Colonie (NY) Emergency Medical Services. After college, I joined the West Orange (NJ) First Aid Squad where I served as an EMT for over 15 years and received life member status. I am currently riding again as an EMT with the East Brunswick Rescue Squad. I am also a Firefighter with the Roseland Volunteer Fire Department as well as an EMS instructor and director of instructional services for the Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools in West Caldwell, New Jersey.
You wrote Please Don't Dance in My Ambulance a few years ago as part of a college English assignment, and found it years later buried amongst some papers you had saved. What was your thought process behind writing/illustrating the book? Were you involved in EMS at that time?
When I wrote the book, I was a political science major and English minor, as well as director of operations for the all-student volunteer ambulance squad on campus and an AEMT with Colonie EMS. The book was part of a research paper on children's literature. I wrote it in rhyme-scheme using elements of effective children's literature that I was researching.
Though the prose was good, the Crayola crayon drawings were nothing to brag about! After finding the original creation, I knew I needed to find a better illustrator. I work with a talented artist, Mea Amacher, an art teacher at Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools. Her husband is a paramedic. I approached her with the story, and after reading it, she agreed to illustrate it. With her background, she was able to help bring my words to life with her sketches.
Is this your first attempt at writing a children's book?
Yes, this was my first attempt at a children's book. I have written a great deal of scholarly work for my Master's and Doctoral programs, but never children's literature.
How is writing for children different than writing for adults?
I have written a great deal of scholarly work that is research based. With that type of writing I am trying to make or support a point. When writing with children as the audience, the goal is the pique their interest, draw them in and engage them both with words and art, as well as provide them a valuable lesson, perhaps without them realizing it.
Do you anticipate writing more books?
Based upon feedback I have received so far, especially from kids who have read the book or had it read to them, I'd love to follow it up with another book dealing with a public safety theme. My seven-year-old daughter actually served as my inspiration. She suggested that since I'm a firefighter, too, I should write another book. She already gave me a working title, Get the duck off my truck. It would be great to co-author a book with her!
To what age group is Please Don't Dance in My Ambulance targeted? What message are you trying to relay to them?
The book is written at a level so first- and second-grade students can read it themselves. But I think children of any age would love to have it read to them. The message is that EMTs who work on ambulances are there to help people, and that while EMS is a serious business, it's also fun.
Why is it important to reach children in this age group?
In my career as a teacher and school administrator, I have found that children make sense of the world around them based upon media they are exposed to, including books, TV, music, computers and more.
Using the media of a book and a story they can hopefully identify with, I hope to eliminate fear about ambulances and EMTs as well instill in them an interest to help others.
What do you hope to accomplish with Please Don't Dance in My Ambulance?
I have two children, and I noticed that in most book stores there are plenty of children's books about firefighters, but very few about EMS. Those that are available depict the profession as "ambulance drivers." With this book I hope to reduce children's fears about ambulances and EMTs, give an accurate and positive view of EMS on a kid's level, and make them smile.
Kids have given me such great response. I've done readings at my local library and the elementary school where I work. The best is when they laugh. This experience has been such fun. The book is a connection back to something I enjoy doing. I've been in EMS for a long time and I've seen how kids enjoy walking through the ambulance and looking at the equipment. But the neat part about the book is that they can get a sense of what it's like to be an EMT, without it being threatening.
What lessons have you learned?
I have learned that in addition to enjoying EMS and teaching, I enjoy writing, especially writing that makes kids giggle! I know my children still laugh when they read it...and they have heard the story dozens of times!
Do You Want to Write a Children's Book?
Following are some tips and resources for writing children's book:
- Join an organization devoted to writing children's books: www.scbwi.org
- Look for free help: www.write4kids.com
- Every word counts when there are fewer of them: www.right-writing.com/child.html
- Consider networking: www.underdown.org/mf-networking.htm
- Ponder how you handle rejection: www.patmora.com
- Take a course in how to write children's books: www.institutechildrenslit.com