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Alive and well: OC program preparing students for career as EMT, firefighter


By Lindsay Weaver, Odessa American, Texas

Feb. 11--Latex gloves? Check. Stethoscope? Check. Is the dummy breathing, with a stable pulse? Check, and check.

It's a far cry from a teen's normal morning routine. But these students from Permian High and Odessa High are learning how to care for the injured and sick all in a semester's time. They will leave the dual credit course at Odessa College's Emergency Medical Services Program with the skills to take and pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians certification exam.

On Thursday morning, students spent the first hour of class reviewing the chapter ahead of Friday's written test. The second hour is dedicated to skills tests. Two "patients" were sprawled across gurneys in the back of the classroom with paramedics assisting.

Amber Rudd, 18, listened to the pulse of a dummy; it's true it has a pulse, because these are high-functioning mannequins with chests that rise and fall to simulate breathing.

"Taking the vital signs is the first thing you do -- assess the patient," she said.

"Although going into the field, they have automatic blood pressure machines that will give them that (information). If the equipment malfunctions, they need to know how to do it," said Oscar Menchaca, the EMS instructor. He's a 2009 graduate of OC's program (he said he discovered later in life what he wanted to do) and has been a certified paramedic and firefighter with Odessa Fire/Rescue since 2010.

Rudd, an aspiring firefighter and OHS senior, said while the EMS class demands "a ton of homework," it's putting her on the path she wants to head down: becoming a firefighter.

During the fire safety course, which was going on next door (for high-schoolers, it's five days a week during first and second periods), Rudd got in some cardiovascular exercise, too.

"You'll be sitting in class, and they'll call a bunker drill. You got to get your gear on in 60 seconds," she said.

Her peers say the extra work is worth it and that the class is fun. Plus, they will graduate with marketable skills in their repertoire.

OHS senior Catherine Wimberly, 18, will graduate in June with the EMS training and her certified nursing assistant certificate obtained through dual credit classes. She might join the military and wants to get her nursing degree and work with child cancer patients. OHS senior Caytlin Walker, 17, hopes to become a nurse, EMT or veterinarian.

The real-life experience is going to be paramount to the classroom, Menchaca said, but it gives the base knowledge for future EMTs, paramedics and firefighters.

"The real test is doing it on the job. Getting the repetition of doing it every day builds your confidence, your skill set," he said.

As firefighters in Odessa, Menchaca said 80 percent of the calls they respond to are medical runs; "it's not like we're in Houston or Dallas and there's a threat of fire in a big city," he said.

The influx of people to Odessa has ramped up the number of traffic accidents, he said, which has kept Odessa Fire/Rescue busy.

Menchaca is a busy man himself. He's actually studying to get his nursing degree alongside teaching the class five days a week, except if he's on duty.

"It's not just to their benefit, but mine, too. When I go through it every day it keeps everything fresh in my mind," he said, adding that he enjoys teaching. "Over time I'm able to tweak the program every semester, making improvements to build the program."

He would like the EMS passing rate to be as high as the fire safety program's rate. It's a decent goal.

David Parker, OC's department chair of fire and EMS Technology, is proud of the education students are getting in Odessa.

The fire safety students' passing rate on the state test doesn't lie. The rate is between 95 and 100 percent.

"Our students have the best chance of being successful," Parker said.

Just like Menchaca, the fire academy courses are taught by a working firefighter Bobby Valles and other supporting staff who work as paramedics and firefighters by day and night. Parker retired from Odessa Fire/Rescue in 2008 and began teaching in 1996.

The future is bright for the OC fire safety and EMS program. The college will break ground on its new $3 million, 8,900-square-foot facility in March, tentatively. The new layout will have a double-truck bay, 1.3 acre training yard and draft pit. It is another good reason to attend OC's fire academy because students can get up close with fighting fires on campus as soon as spring 2014. Currently, they use the Odessa Fire/Rescue's burn rooms to simulate a fire.

A new four-story tower will give students experience with battling fires or making rescues in an apartment building for example, climbing up and down stairs during an emergency situation.

Once the building opens in the fall, students will practice repelling down the building as well, Parker said.

"We have actual firefighters teaching the students how to do the job," Parker. He touted the new building on campus, and don't forget the high passing rate: "one of the best passing rates in the state," he said.

"For a student who wants to pursue a career in firefighting, we're probably one of the best training facilities around," he said.

--Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.

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©2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

Visit the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) at www.oaoa.com

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