JEMS.com Editor's Note: Read "Louisiana Increases Number of High-School-Trained EMTs"to learn another successful high-school EMT program.
MYERSTOWN, Pa. -- For Kaitlin Gettle and Kimberly Engle, serving as volunteers with local ambulance services has given them a jumpstart on their careers.
Gettle and Engle, both juniors at Elco High School, completed the school's Emergency Medical Technician course, the only one of its kind in the state. They are enrolled in the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center's allied health services curriculum and plan to become nurses.
Engle, Gettle and 27 other students earned college credits for completing the EMT course successfully, but it wasn't easy.
In addition to regular classroom time during the first semester of the school year, the students attended night classes from 6 to 10 p.m. one to three nights a week from September through December.
"We had EMT every night over Christmas break," Gettle said.
In January, they took a full-day practical exam and a two-hour written test to achieve certification.
Now they volunteer with Schaefferstown's ambulance and the First Aid and Safety Patrol team in Lebanon.
"I thought it would be good because I wanted to get into nursing," said Engle, who lives outside Schaefferstown.
Gettle, who lives in Newmanstown, rides with FASP "every Sunday when I can."
Gettle signed up for the EMT class on the recommendation of her guidance counselor, Mark Evans.
Science teacher David Kirchner, an EMT and president of Myerstown First Aid, has taught the class since its inception in 1981 and said class sizes average between 30 and 35 students.
Among the earliest proponents of the EMT program were former Elco superintendent Ken Good; Kirchner's brother, Frank, who was on the school board; and his sister, Barb Seifert.
Good, now deceased, received a personal benefit from the class when an EMT crew composed entirely of Elco EMT class graduates responded to treat him at his home one day, Kirchner said.
"He was pretty proud of that," Kirchner said.
Seventy-five community volunteers assist with the class, Kirchner noted.
Elco School Board member Howard Kramer is an EMT who volunteers with Schaefferstown's crew.
"Years ago, I put in the ride-along program," Kramer said. "During the first part of the year, they can ride along and be covered by our insurance."
It's a win-win situation for the students and the ambulance services, which can always use more volunteers. Newmanstown also has an independent ambulance service in the Elco district.
Gettle said the "hands-on" experience she has gained is invaluable.
Kramer told about Ashley Keath, a graduate of Elco's EMT class who recently helped assist with a medical emergency on a jet flight home from her college spring break trip.
A flight attendant asked if anyone on the flight had medical experience, and Keath offered to help, along with two registered nurses. A pilot came back to Keath and asked her if she thought the jet needed to land. The decision was made to continue to the destination but at an increased speed.
"It's a great resume builder," Kramer said of the class. "It takes a lot of dedication. These kids go above and beyond what other kids are doing."
Gettle participates in cheerleading and softball; Engle works at Dutch-Way in Schaefferstown. They also "shadow" nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Despite the course's requirements, it is a popular elective.
Kirchner said 36 students a full class are signed up for next fall and 12 alternates are on a waiting list.
Each student receives a full EMT outfit that costs about $400, Kramer said.
Although many leave the area to attend college after graduation, Kramer said the investment is worthwhile.
"Even if I get only one that stays, I'm ahead of the game," he said.
Schaefferstown's ambulance facility has computers and wireless capabilities, so the students can bring their own laptops and work while they're waiting for a call.
"We renovated the lounge for them," Kramer said.
"We stress professionalism," Kramer said. "We're dependent on these guys. We've only missed one call since '03 when our regular volunteers are on duty (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.). We know these guys will be riding along this summer."