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January 5, 2013

High school EMTs saving lives in Boston

The Bolton Common

BOSTON — For many high school students, just passing calculus or biology class is a challenge on its own. But some students at Nashoba Regional High School are not just balancing their coursework during the day, they are saving lives as well.

"I remember one time, I was sitting in math class and my pager went off. I jumped up so fast, I knocked the desk over," said Madeline Jenkins, a senior at Nashoba Regional High School and a certified Emergency Medical Technician.

Each year, Nashoba runs a program called the Cadet Emergency Medical Technician program, which not only trains and certifies students to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), but allows them to respond to 911 emergency calls.

Jenkins is one of 18 students in the program this year, who responds to emergency calls.

During school days, four student EMT cadets head in and out of class carrying pagers waiting for a call. The second their pagers begin to beep, the students stop what they are doing, rush out of the school to an old Bolton police cruiser and speed over to the scene of the emergency. There, they administer the treatment neccessary to save the patient and get them to the hospital alive.

The program began in 1987 as a means of alleviating a shortage of emergency responders in Bolton, said program coordinator Ann Farrell.

Special waivers are given by the state allowing students to join the program at 16 and a half years old. If accepted into the program, students are put through a rigorous yearlong class giving them the same training that an EMT would receive.

At the end of their first year, students are required to pass the state's written and practical EMT certification exam, before they can become emergency responders the following year. Farrell said students are designated a deputy EMT status because they are under the age of 18, but they are given the same amount of training and have the same capabilities as any other EMT in the state.

"We have had some very serious calls, cardiac arrest, really bad car accidents," she said.

Regardless of the severity of the emergency, the students respond to any call that may arise around Bolton. Last year, students responded to almost 100 calls during the school day hours of 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The students are driven to the emergency by a school janitor in an old police cruiser donated by Bolton police. Upon arrival, the students administer treatment to the patient.

An ambulance driven by an EMT also heads to the scene to transport the patient to the hospital, but the students take care of the patient until they arrive at the emergency room.

"My experience in this program has been the single most profound experience of my high school career," said Louisa Smith, a Nashoba Regional High School senior.

It's not easy for students to get accepted into the class, which earns them four high school credits per year.

Farrell said this year she admitted 16 students into the first year class out of 35 applicants. She said she looks for students who are very committed and who genuinely want to positively contribute to their community.

Farrell said the program's workload is heavy and students are often forced to learn on the fly how to balance it around their class-work and extracurricular activities. Students are required to maintain atleast a "C" mark average in all of their classes in order to stay in the program.

The only excuse for not responding to a call is when a student is taking a test. At times it is difficult for students to drop what they are doing in class and make their way through the school. But Farrell said the students still manage to make it to calls in 5 to 6 minutes on average.

"It's a lot of work. We make it clear what the committment is before they join," she said.

"A lot of times in high school, you do not have the opportunity to do a lot for your community. Doing this, I know I am helping people," said Nyshidha Gurijaba, a student in her first year of the program.

Forrest Hangen, a senior, said the program has helped his confidence.

"After being on a difficult call, taking that math test doesn't seem that bad," he said.

Not everyone is expecting high school students to arrive at an emergency, Hangen said. While at a call, he one day recalled seeing parents at the scene who appeared nervous that he was treating a child whose health was in question.

He said after the child was cared for, the parents emailed the student responders to express their gratitude and emphasized how comfortable they felt once the students began administrating treatment.

"These students are real heroes," said Chief Vincent Alfano of the Bolton Police Department. "When our paramedics are not available, if it weren't for these students, there would be emergencies that no one would respond to. They save lives."

Farrell said many students continue in their education to become physicians, physical therapists, nurses, fire fighters and paramedics. This summer, Jenkins will be working at a medical clinic in Malawi.

Farrell said some of the students work for the Bolton Department of Public Works over the summer, which hires EMTs that respond to calls in town while school is not in session.

Tricia Temple, a student in her first year of the program said, "At the end of the day, I go home and think, 'Wow, I really helped someone today.'"

Copyright 2013 The Bolton Common

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