Become a local first responder

Aug 14, 2019

Credit KBBI News

Keeping the community ready to respond to emergencies means training and keeping local volunteers. EMT training and firefighter training starts next month at The Homer Volunteer Fire Department and at The Anchor Point Volunteer Fire Department. Kachemak Emergency Services, east of Homer, will begin their training in January of 2020. KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson spoke with local trainers, EMTs and first responders for this story.

Samantha Cunningham is a Firefighter Technician at KESA . She’s also a paramedic with decades of experience responding to accidents and disasters. Cunningham will be conducting first responder training at Kachemak Emergency Services on Ashwood Drive off East End Road. She says there is a book to study, but the bulk of the training is spent doing things rather than just sitting in a classroom. 

"Because that's what it's all about. you do need to have some of the book learning because you need to learn a new vocabulary," Cunningham said. 

While learning vocabulary, Cunningham says trainees are building a practical skillset for responding to emergencies. Straightforward mechanical skills, she calls them.

" Straightforward would be a backboard. there are straps and there is a diagram to remember to tighten straps in a certain order. Probably 10 or 20 times before you are done with the class," said Cunningham 

Also, important are the interpersonal skills that a trainee learns and practices like how to take vital signs and how to speak to someone who may be in shock.

"You would be learning how to come up to somebody and touch them and take their pulse without both of you feeling awkward, how to move in and out of people's personal space bubbles. You learn how to ask questions that you  wouldn't ask people. We don't normally ask people that we just met five minutes ago what kind of medication they're on,"Cunningham said.

Jake Schmutzler has been through all of this. He’s been an EMT and an
engineer at the Homer firehouse for about five years. He says that once the
 two and a half month training is complete and the test has been passed,
volunteer firefighters and EMTs can lend their time and there new skills in
a way that suits their schedule.

"So if you work on the slope and have two weeks off and two weeks here, they can work with that. If you work during the day and only have time at night, we can work with that. If you want to volunteer for 24 hours on a weekend once or twice a month, there is room for that," he said.

Schmutzler is a level 3, the highest designation for an EMT. He says a lot of EMT Level 1 training is learning how not to hurt people when you’re trying to help.

He said, "So, EMT 1, you can give oxygen and apply splints and use backboards and C-collars and things like that - how to keep someone safe while you transport them to the hospital. EMT 2 skills, you get to be a little more invasive and start IVs, give people glucose and narcan for diabetes and narcotic overdoses. EMT 3s can give cardiac meds, administer meds for seizures and give pain meds."

The V in HVFD stands for volunteer. Even with all the training and responsibilities, most EMTs are not paid. Homer Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Kirko says it is a highly demanding job and the only benefits come from serving your community. Though, Kirko says some people do take the training in order to bring those skills to use as guides, or on a fishing boat.

"A lot folks I know take it because it's part of their carreer path. They might work out at isolated camps, fish camps or something. It's always great that they have the ability to have well-trained first responders. I look forward to getting as many people as possible in the class so they can join our organization and help the community that way," said Chief Kirko.

EMT training in Homer will begin on September 9. In Anchor Point, the
training starts on Sept 23. Kachemak Emergency Services training days
will be scheduled for the first or second week in January of 2020.

For more information in Homer – go to the firehouse on Pioneer Avenue.
In Anchor Point, the firehouse is located at 72440 Milo Fritz Avenue.
Kachemak Emergency Services is located on Ashwood Avenue off
East End Road at about mile 19.