Sparking an early interest in firefighting

High school students learn of joint program to train paramedics

January 20, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Capt. John Jerome is looking for high school students who aren't scared of blood.

Jerome and other members of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services visited five area high schools this month, looking for sophomores who want to become firefighters and paramedics as part of the department's new joint program with the public school system and Howard Community College.

Students who sign up for the program will begin taking classes, including an emergency medical technician course, when they are juniors next year. After they graduate, the students will take two years of classes at HCC, which could make them certified paramedics.

Paramedics are trained to perform medical procedures such as setting up IVs, stopping bleeding and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"It's pretty early for people to have their life's work planned out. But that's who we're looking for, people with a little fire in their eyes and who know what they want to do," Jerome said.

The county has 90 firefighters who are certified as paramedics of a staff of nearly 300 career firefighters. That number can handle the county's current workload, fire officials say, but they want to boost numbers for the future as current paramedics move up the ranks.

"We are always going to need more," Chief Joseph Herr said.

A tough sell

Getting sophomores interested in a firefighting career isn't easy. Many students who sat through a 15-minute presentation at Howard High School seemed more interested in whispering or passing notes than the video the firefighters showed.

"Doesn't anyone have any questions? C'mon, someone here must have a question," said Lt. Michael J. Katafiasz to a group of silent sophomores.

While most students shuffled out the door to lunch when the bell rang, Ashley Lorusso, 16, of Elkridge approached the firefighters with a list of questions about the program and to sign up for more information.

Lorusso has wanted to be a paramedic since she was in eighth grade and "anything I can do to help me get there faster sounds good," she said.

Howard firefighters hope to expand the program to more high schools in the next few years and plan to graduate about 25 students a year from the program.

Expansion eyed

HCC also is eager to expand its paramedic training program. Typically, six to 10 students enroll in classes, said Emily Slunt, chairwoman of the college's health and science division. "We have plenty of room to grow," she said.

If the program expands, it is unlikely that all graduates will be hired by Howard County, which typically does not hire 25 firefighters a year.

But firefighters with paramedic credentials won't have trouble finding jobs, many say. "It's something that counts a lot in the hiring process," said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire Department, which gives candidates with paramedic credentials extra points on their applications.

Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties also prefer applicants who are certified paramedics or emergency medical technicians. "This is what is going to distinguish you guys from the rest of the field," Katafiasz told students.

Which is what Andrew James, 16, a sophomore at Howard High, wanted to hear. After a presentation, he rushed to a nearby table to put his name on a mailing list for more information about the program. "I've wanted to be a firefighter since I was just a small kid, so I'm always looking for a way to [accomplish] that faster," he said.

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