St. Petersburg College has partnered with the St Petersburg Fire Department (SPFD) in an exciting pilot project. The aim is to sponsor high school students who are up to the rigorous standards through the Emergency Medical Technician course, then on through the Fire Academy. The ultimate goal for each of these students is a possible future full-time position with SPFD.
The opportunity was open to all applicants willing to follow the strict rules of the program, dictated by the SPFD and the SPC EMS program. Students are required to maintain a high level of professionalism and conduct, in addition to maintaining a minimum grade point average in both their EMT courses and high school curriculum.
Attendance, personal conduct and grade point average are monitored by SPFD. Any drop in GPA of either high school courses or EMS college courses is possible grounds for expulsion from the project.
The program is the conceived brainchild of veteran SPFD firefighter Lieutenant Christopher Henderson, who sees his idea as a way to give back to the local community.
“I do a lot of mentoring,” Henderson explained. “And a lot of it is especially directed to kids in middle school, where a lot of good kids can easily be influenced to do the wrong thing.”
Understanding his position as a role model, Henderson began to mentor kids in St Petersburg who may be in need of someone to look up to.
“A lot of these kids I saw were from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, where the interactions they have with people in uniform may not always be the most positive.” he said. “I wanted to see more of a local representation of the people we serve in our department.”
Henderson wanted kids who may be led astray to have something to work towards and focus on. He wanted them to have a realistic goal that they could achieve if they were willing to work hard and stay out of trouble.
Approaching both the leadership staff with SPFD as well as the EMS Program at SPC, Henderson worked on a four-year curriculum that would encompass all four years a student would attend high school.
Each school day, the students are required to be at Gibbs High School by 7:05 am. Morning classes are reserved for their normal high school curriculum. After students have lunch at school, they then carpool to the SPC Allstate campus for the EMT class from 2-6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for the lecture portion of the class, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are for hands-on lab work.
Freshmen students were enrolled in an anatomy and physiology course that would help them prepare for the requirements they would eventually face as an EMT. Basic terminology and gross anatomical landmarks had to be clearly understood and tested in order for the students to advance to the next stage of the program.
During their sophomore year, students in the program took a medical foundations course that helped to explain how the medical industry operates, including insurance policies and Medicare, as well as learning hands-on skills such as first aid.
Students who fulfilled the requirements were enrolled as juniors into a First Responder course taught by Henderson. This highly intensive course presented the students with medical scenarios and lifesaving skills that would be expanded upon in the EMT course.
Four students in the pilot program made it all the way through. All have aspirations to become SPFD firefighters and give back to the community that they uniformly agree has given them such an amazing opportunity.
“If you’re not willing to do the work, this isn’t for you,” stated 17-year old Nicholas Flowers, who sacrificed his high school athletic career in order to maintain his grades and remain in the EMT program.
The students spend a lot of time with Henderson, forming an almost paternal bonding, perhaps best personified by a large box in the corner of the classroom containing several microwavable packages of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
“A lot of these kids have no money,” Henderson said. “If they don’t eat at school, getting breakfast and lunch there, then they may not eat.”
On their first break, each student took a package of mac and cheese to the nearby microwave and were able to get something hot in their stomach before they continued their evening session.
Henderson said his main concern with running a program like this is that the students will be emotionally capable of handling what they may face out on the streets. With emotional problems, PTSD and suicide rates on the rise with first responders, Henderson understands that his students won’t be immune from facing some of reality’s harshest situations.
“That’s what scares me the most,” Henderson said. “We do a lot of good, but we see a lot of bad. I can only teach them what they need to know and hope that they understand what they might face.”