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Penn. High Schools Partner with EMS Program to Recruit EMTs

The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.

The patient has an ugly burn on his hand from a mishap with a toaster. As the emergency medical technician on-scene begins to treat the patient, she asks about medication, medical history, and whether the patient can answer basic questions (“how many quarters are in a dollar?”). Then, she takes his blood pressure and pulse.

“Let me just pause you for a second,” instructor John Rowe says. “You know you’re doing a trauma assessment.”

Rowe’s hint helps Sydney Overmiller—a student at the high school-level emergency services training program at Cumberland Goodwill Training and Education Center at 102 W. Ridge St. performing a mock evaluation on another student—to make adjustments in her treatment procedure. Once Overmiller is finished, Rowe asks the rest of the class what protocols she missed.

Through tests like this, nine Cumberland County high school students are preparing for a National Registry exam that will open the door to careers in firefighting and emergency medical services. The regional program addresses one of the primary challenges facing emergency service providers: the sometimes prohibitive time and cost of mandated training requirements for first responders.

There are several factors going against recruitment of EMTs for Cumberland Goodwill EMS, according to Assistant Chief Nathan Harig: the overall decline in volunteerism, the relatively low compensation rate compared to other careers, and the extensive training necessary to perform the job. The emergency services training program—a partnership of Carlisle, Cumberland Valley, Big Spring and other area high schools, Harrisburg Area Community College, the Capital Area Consortium for Higher Education, and the Capital Area Intermediate Unit—is something going right.

Cumberland Goodwill EMT Basic Tyler Bailey, a 2016 Carlisle graduate, took the class his senior year because he wanted to be a professional firefighter.

“I wasn’t too sure about the whole ambulance thing,” he said. “We put water on fires. We don’t deal with the medical stuff.”

The class, however, convinced him to pursue a career as an EMT.

“Once I got into the class here and the environment with the instructor—which we had fantastic instructors—I got really involved and engaged in and really liked it. That was when I was kind of like, ‘this isn’t too bad, I could get into this,’ and developed a serious interest in it,” he said.

If it hadn’t been for the ability to complete training during the school day, it would have been far more difficult to overcome the training barriers to a career as a first responder, he said. Harig agreed.

“Once we have someone who is married and has a family, it’s a miracle if they’re able to do it,” he said.

The program also helps local fire companies by providing them with skilled volunteers, Rowe said.

There are nine students participating in the program, which meets half a day, five days per week for half of the school year.

Harig said the curriculum is being revamped to make it even more applicable and helpful to various careers, including training in specialized types of hazards.

Even now, the class’s value isn’t limited to first-responder positions.

Rowe said medical school students with this experience tend to be “miles ahead” of their colleagues at interpersonal skills in interacting with patients.

Overmiller, a senior at Carlisle High School, wants to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant.

“This is by far the hardest class I have taken in my entire life,” she said. “It’s a lot of content, and …we’ve got to know everything about everything.”

Carlisle Fire Chief Jeffrey Synder said the Carlisle Fire Department is involved in the discussions of how to improve the program in hopes of attracting even more volunteers.

“The goal is to at least expose more individuals to that, which could in turn lead to a career choice once they leave high school,” Snyder said.

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