Chapel Hill High School held a ceremony to dedicate an ambulance donated by the South Orange Rescue Squad to the school’s EMT program last Thursday.
The project is a collaboration between South Orange Rescue Squad Board Member Matthew J. Sullivan and Kathi Breweur, career and technical education director at CHCCS. Sullivan and Breweur got the idea to donate the ambulance a few years after they worked together to donate a firetruck to the Firefighting Academy at Chapel Hill High School.
Breweur received the ambulance in January of 2021. Before the ambulance could be used by CHHS students, all South Orange Rescue Squad lettering was removed, and a donation sign was added to the back of the vehicle.
“This was still during the pandemic, which helped us make necessary repairs to the ambulance before the students started using the unit this school year,” Breweur said in an email.
The ambulance donation comes at a time when the United States is struggling with a shortage of EMTs and paramedics, a challenge exacerbated by COVID-19.
Chapel Hill High School students that take both Emergency Medical Technology classes and pass the EMT II post-assessment with an 80% or above are eligible to apply for the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services EMT Basic Certification.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students who have an interest in healthcare or public safety, to gain that foundation in high school early on that really jumpstarts their careers,” Orange County Emergency Services Director Kirby Saunders said. “They’re already certified, they’re employable.”
Saunders said that Orange County also has an academy within the Emergency Services Department where EMTs are transitioned into full-time paramedics. EMTs in the academy are paid the same salary as full-time paramedics.
The EMT classes at CHHS are also taken by firefighting students, who enroll in firefighting-specific classes sophomore and junior year and then take an EMT class senior year.
CHHS EMT teacher David Stossmeister said that even if students do not pursue being an EMT or a firefighter as a career, the skills they develop in their EMT classes still have a positive impact.
“There’s nothing else in high school that’s going to teach teamwork and critical thinking and working under pressure like an EMT class will,” Stossmeister said.
The N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services requires each EMT student to have experience driving an emergency vehicle. The EMT II class offered at CHHS also includes driving an ambulance as part of the course curriculum.
Stossmeister said that his students have met the ambulance with “nothing but excitement and enjoyment.”
“They love getting in the back and really practicing the way we do it in real life,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement around driving."
Breweur said that first responders face life and death decisions on a regular basis, and when students are able to practice their skills in the ambulance space they will experience less stress as they begin their careers.
Stossmeister said that the EMT classes at CHHS will use the ambulance in simulated activities and scenarios to help bring students closer to the reality of working as an EMT.
“It’s a different feeling when you get in the back of an ambulance,” he said. “There’s this problem in front of you, this person that needs help. When those doors shut, you’re in.”
Both Stossmeister and Saunders expressed their gratitude for South Orange Rescue Squad’s positive impact on the community.
Alongside CHCCS, Wake County Public Schools and Durham Public Schools offer an EMT program for students at the high school level.
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