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Penn. EMS Camp Preps Kids for Careers in Emergency Medicine

Erie Times-News, Pa.

It's not your typical summer camp.

There's no archery or horseback riding, and the only arts taught are lifesaving skills.

Teens at Camp EMS at Allegheny College this week are learning to assess, stabilize and, if necessary, extricate trauma patients. The camp is operated by EmergyCare to introduce young adults ages 14 through 17 to emergency medical services careers.

By the end of camp Friday, each camper will have basic life-support skills and will earn American Heart Association CPR certification. Outstanding campers earn scholarships for EmergyCare EMT training.

"I learned a lot," said Riley Atkins, 15, of Guys Mills. Atkins is attending Camp EMS for a second time and is an aspiring EMT. "And it's a lot of fun," she said.

That's despite camp days that start at 6 a.m. with physical fitness and end at 9 p.m. after classes covering musculoskeletal injuries, spinal immobilization, triage for mass casualty events and other topics.

All lessons are hands-on so that students can put new skills to work and experience what it's like to be an EMT, said camp director Jim Kifer. Kifer is education coordinator for Erie-based EmergyCare and launched Camp EMS in 2013.

"The program is extremely hands-on," Kifer said. "Speakers are told to have a maximum of 20 minutes of lecture without integrating activities. It's summer, after all. Who wants to just sit in a classroom and listen?"

Morgan McQueeney, 15, of Lawrence Park, also is a repeat EMS camper. She hopes to be a family physician.

"I like the positive work environment here, and I find this really fun," she said.

SWAT team, canine rescue and medical helicopter demonstrations are camper favorites, Kifer said.

"Stat MedEvac has always been a hit with the kids," Kifer said. "They get to put their hands on it, sit inside, and talk to the pilot, flight nurse and medic."

Makenna Hague, 18, of Townville, is participating in her fifth Camp EMS this summer, this year as a senior cadet, and is considering working as a flight medic one day. She won a scholarship for EmergyCare EMT training and will be tested soon for certification.

"I will work as an EMT first. The plan after that is to be a paramedic or a flight medic," she said. "I've always been interested in the medical field, and I love trauma and the excitement of EMS. Camp helped me and has helped a lot of kids figure out that this is what they want to do in life."

Dylan Thomson, 23, of North East, has been to Camp EMS every summer since it started six years ago, currently as a counselor. He also earned a scholarship to complete EmergyCare EMT training and now volunteers with Crescent Hose Company. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and plans to apply to medical schools in 2020.

On Tuesday, he showed campers how to evaluate, stabilize and extricate a patient from tight quarters — in this case, under equipment on a campus playground.

"I enjoy volunteering to help the kids," he said.

Nolan Beardsley, 20, also of North East, showed campers how to insert a tube into the trachea to protect a patient's airway and help the patient breathe. Campers used training dummies to get the hang of the procedure.

Beardsley attended the camp several years ago and is a counselor this year.

"Halfway through my first week of camp, I fell in love with this," Beardsley said of emergency medicine. He also earned a camper scholarship for EmergyCare EMT training and, like Thomson, volunteers his services with Crescent Hose and as a Camp EMS counselor.

"It's the best week of my life," Beardsley said. "I love to share my passion with kids."

Beardsley is studying nursing at Mercyhurst North East and plans to work as a pre-hospital registered nurse.

The young counselors are just a few of the camp's successes, Kifer said.

"They're the reason we created this program, for that kind of success story," Kifer said. "They show the kids here that an emergency medical technician can be a career or a stepping stone to other careers, in medicine, nursing, anesthesiology, even pharmacy."

Camp EMS also benefits EmergyCare and other EMS providers that have been hurting for employees and volunteers.

"There's a major staffing crisis in EMS in general, not only in Pennsylvania but on a national scale," said David Basnak, EmergyCare operations manager. "We don't see a lot of people getting into the field like we used to. One of the things that Camp EMS does is help introduce young individuals to allied health careers."

A number of camp graduates now volunteer with local fire departments, have gone on to work for EmergyCare or are continuing training for other medical careers.

"The camp shows kids what they are capable of doing and that they can come out of high school, attend a training program and basically take on a trade," Basnak said. "The program not only benefits the kids and benefits EmergyCare, it benefits the EMS community as a whole. We've had students who have gone through camp and now are helping out throughout the region."

EmergyCare in the past year has increased staffing between 30 percent and 40 percent. Among the incentives was a $3 hourly increase in starting salaries offered this past winter, Basnak said.

"We're definitely making progress in our organization, but a lot of other organizations are struggling regionally, statewide and nationally. But we have to keep our staffing up, so we're trying to look ahead, be very proactive and make sure that the next generation is ready to come behind us and take our place," he said.

Forty-seven students are participating in Camp EMS this summer. Cost for the week, including room and meals, is just $100, thanks to sponsors that cover most of the expenses. Full scholarships are available for up to 10 campers each summer.

Campers come from throughout EmergyCare's northwestern Pennsylvania coverage area and beyond. One girl came to camp from North Dakota one year.

"There is no other program like this that we're aware of," Kifer said.

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