By Joe Beck
QUICKSBURG -- Students in Dawn Broy's classroom at Stonewall Jackson High School are learning about how to respond to life and death situations in ways that few others in their age group can.
Broy's course sets them on a path toward certification as an EMT eligible to participate as volunteer ambulance crewmembers throughout Shenandoah County and elsewhere.
The class requires students to meet three hours twice a week to learn life saving skills that go well beyond standard first aid. Some exercises involve students playing the part of EMTs encountering patients stricken with a variety of illnesses and injuries requiring emergency treatment.
This year's class is the first of its kind in county schools. Broy, a Shenandoah County firefighter and EMT, and Bill Street Jr., the department's deputy chief who helped conceive and organize the class, said they have been pleased by what they've been seeing.
"I think everything up to this point has worked well," Street said, adding, "The students seem to be very engaged and interested."
Students who successfully complete the course and a subsequent three-part certification test may be able to make a difference in helping staff local ambulance crews that have been having trouble recruiting volunteers in recent years. Street said he hopes 80 to 90 percent of the dozen or so students enrolled in the class will go on to become volunteers.
"This is one of our responses to addressing that shortage," Street said.
In the middle of one recent lesson, part of the class gathered around a boy curled up in a fetal position on the floor. They were following a script in which the EMTs try to help an injured victim of a fight.
"You want to make sure he's got a pulse," Broy instructed the students. "Does he have any lacerations? Is he bleeding out? Check his skin. Is it warm, pink and dry?"
The class is a combination of hands-on training, textbook instruction and experiences with mentors at local fire and rescue companies throughout the county. The lessons require the students to think about how they would react in life and death situations fraught with dramatic tension and uncertainty.
Broy, who also teaches an evening EMT class in Edinburg, said the class has been rewarding for her and the students, especially in the progress she has seen since the beginning of the school year.
"The biggest change I see is improved maturity," Broy said of the students. "I think they quickly realize this is a serious course. It's not something they can go into lightly."
The students come from all three high schools in the county. Street said his department enlisted the schools' guidance departments for help in marketing the program and recruiting the first class of students. The applicants' academic, discipline and attendance records were considered before they were allowed to enroll. They were also required to be at least 16 years old and have their parents' permission.
No other courses or experience were required to enroll, but Street said no one should underestimate the course's rigor.
"I think academically most of the students will tell you this class is as challenging as anything they have encountered," Street said.
Several students have volunteered to help with non-emergency tasks around county fire and rescue companies in addition to their participation in the mentoring part of the class.
"I'm starting to see these folks more and more on operational crews we have staffed," Street said.
"They're learning a trade. They're learning a profession," Broy said. "But they're also getting involved in their community."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org