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Five Dos and Five Don’ts for an Effective EMS Week School Presentation

May 19–25 in National EMS Week, and the theme for 2019 is “Beyond the Call.”  For many services EMS Week means community outreach and perhaps visits to schools or youth organizations. To make your presentations to such audiences more effective, follow these dos and don’ts of effective presentations.  


1. Call ahead—At least a week in advance of the presentation, reach out to the school and see if you can talk to the teacher. This gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself, get a sense of class size and location and setup of the room, an idea of the abilities and/or special needs of students, and just a general sense of what you’re walking into. Think of it as surveying the scene prior to entry.

2. Have a goal—What do you want the kids you address to know or be able to do as a result of your presentation? Just as their teachers do, structure a lesson plan based on your goals. Here is a suggested lesson plan:

  1. Introductions (and perhaps an icebreaker activity);
  2. Share goals for the presentation;
  3. Have a listening activity, a showing activity, and a doing activity;
  4. Allow students (and teachers) to ask questions;
  5. Check to see what they learned.

Here is an additional sample lesson plan for kindergarten/first-grade students from Nicole Volpi of Westwego (La.) EMS.

3. Know the age group with which you’ll be working—This will let you plan appropriate goals and activities. Here are some suggestions:

  • Primary grades (pre-K through 2)—Have students understand what EMS is and what EMTs and paramedics do. Practice (with a fake phone and simulated dispatcher) how to make a 9-1-1 call. Consider reading a EMS story, such as Please Don’t Dance in My Ambulance or Frederick the Paramedic (both available through Amazon).
  • Intermediate grades (3–5)—Review what EMS is; understand what happens when 9-1-1 is called and who responds (and why). Discuss some of the equipment carried and generally what it’s used for. Practice basic first aid skills, such as direct pressure for bleeding or the Heimlich maneuver. Whenever you’re going to teach skills, always set ground rules and have a “freeze” command; demonstrate with adults; and, if you have enough adults, break students up into smaller supervised groups.
  • Middle-school grades (6–8)—Understand the role of EMS in the community; demonstrate some of the equipment carried and how it’s used; learn some skills, such as a “friends and family” CPR course or a basic first aid class. If you are unable to teach a full class, consider bringing a manikin and doing a skills demonstration. Pro tip: Before doing a demonstration, give students some context for what you’ll be showing and why. For example, explain what CPR is, why you do it, and, in basic physiological terms, how it works.
  • High school (9–12)—Understand the profession of EMS and the education and certifications required be EMTs and paramedics. If you’re with a volunteer service, share volunteer opportunities. Learn and teach content like Heartsaver CPR or bleeding control (B-Con) basics.

4. Dress and speak professionally, but on the students’ level—It should go without saying, but wear a clean uniform, tuck in your shirt, and look professional. Students and teachers aren’t impressed by a salty look. While high school students will understand terms like “cardiac monitoring” and “severe hemorrhage,” primary-age students will do better with words like “boo-boos” and “medicine to make you better.”

5. Clean your rig—Much like a clean uniform, a clean ambulance makes a good impression. Additionally, if the ambulance is part of your presentation, clean and decontaminate the interior. Further, secure any equipment, gear, or personal items you don’t want students to touch if you are allowing them in the ambulance.


1. Don’t tell war stories—What might be great for the retelling at the station might not go over so well in the classroom. Out of context and lacking appropriate background, students might get grossed out, horrified, have nightmares, or react inappropriately. If you get asked, “What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?” don’t tell them what it is or deflect by saying, “I don’t want to say.” Instead try something like, “EMS responds to a whole bunch of emergencies, which is usually people having a really bad day. Regardless of what I think, it is a bad day for them, and my job is to try to make it better if I can.”

2. Don’t make it about the lights and sirens—Sure, EMS doesn’t have a cool ladder truck or weaponry like law enforcement. To focus on lights and sirens misses the opportunity to show how EMS is more than just “ambulance drivers” and emphasize the education and skills providers use to help people. Resist the temptation to blast the siren. The risk of hearing loss is real and can be dangerous to people, especially children.

3. Don’t share equipment without context—Showing your gear and naming it doesn’t give students a chance to understand the level of education and skills needed to do your job. If you’re going to demonstrate equipment, give an age-appropriate mini-lesson on the human body to show how the equipment works. For example, talk about blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the heart and lungs and show how a pulse oximeter helps measure those levels.

4. Don’t let students in the ambulance or into your gear unsupervised—Your vehicle and gear are important and expensive. Students, even with good intentions, can get into things you don’t want them to. Maintain supervision by you or your partner at all times. Enlist the teacher’s help (though it’s not the teacher’s job to watch your equipment; their focus should be on their students).

5. Don’t leave before doing an inventory or gear check—Despite your best supervision, sometimes little hands can move (or remove) items. Make sure your gear is as you left it, including interiors of cabinets and bags. You want to be ready for the next call. If something is missing, report it to the school administration and your supervisor immediately.


School presentations are a great opportunity for public relations and education. Typically children know about the fire department from fire-safety programs and law enforcement from school crossings, security drills, and antidrug programs. This might be one of the few nonpatient introductions they have to EMS, so leave a good impression! Work with the teacher. They may not know a lot about EMS, but they know how to teach, and they know their students. Create a good partnership where the students (and teacher too) can learn about the important role of EMS in their community.

Be prepared for your EMS Week presentation this year with a few steps in advance to show your community you go “beyond the call”!

Barry A. Bachenheimer, EdD, FF/EMT, is a frequent contributor to EMS World. He is a career educator and university professor, as well as a firefighter and member of the technical-rescue team with the Roseland (N.J.) Fire Department and an EMT with the South Orange (N.J.) Rescue Squad. He is also a subject matter expert and instructor for the National Center for Security and Emergency Preparedness in New York. Reach him at




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