POCATELLO — When it was time to decommission an ambulance from active service, Terrel Tovey said the Bannock County Commission had the option to repurpose and sell the 21-year-old vehicle.
But it was determined the ambulance would be better served as a real-world teaching aid for Pocatello-area high school students preparing for careers as emergency medical technicians.
On Tuesday afternoon, students, school officials, local firefighters and elected officials gathered outside Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25’s 1st Responders Academy at the corner of North Main and West Fremont streets to celebrate the donation of the ambulance.
According to District 25, the donation of the ambulance was made possible by the Pocatello Fire Department, the Bannock County Ambulance District and the Bannock County Commission.
“This is huge,” said Rhonda Naftz, career and technical education coordinator for District 25. “If you were teaching a student how to use Microsoft Office, you would need a computer lab. The ambulance would be the same thing for EMT students.”
The 1st Responders Academy is open to seniors from all three of Pocatello’s public high schools, with approximately 15 students currently enrolled in the EMT program. Once students complete the yearlong program, which includes classroom instruction and ride-alongs with local paramedics and firefighters, they can take the exam from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians to be certified as EMTs.
For instructor Mark Brood, the ambulance will serve as an important teaching tool to simulate treating and transporting patients in a real world environment. With the ambulance permanently parked inside the academy’s classroom, a 911 call can be simulated from start to finish.
“The students have to know how to load a patient into an ambulance, then they have to keep patient care going,” Brood said about the classroom simulation with the ambulance. “The students have to unload the patient, and then I pretend to be the doctor and they have to give me a report about the patient.”
Last year, District 25 purchased a fire engine that is currently situated inside a 1st Responders Academy classroom. The fire engine provides students with real-world practice in a similar manner to how the ambulance will be utilized.
Students and faculty at the 1st Responders Academy now have a new hands-on learning aid. But for local emergency responders, the donation of the ambulance means helping to create a new generation of EMTs, which is particularly crucial for a largely rural state like Idaho where the services of EMTs are always in high demand.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for EMTs and paramedics across the country is expected to grow by 15 percent over the next 10 years, which is more than double the average for all occupations.
“We want to create of stream of future employees, which is why it is important for us to build bridges and coalitions now,” said Pocatello Fire Chief David Gates.
Tovey, one of the three members of the Bannock County Commission, said the ambulance donated to District 25 was taken out of active service to fulfill an obligation for a state grant that was used to purchase a new ambulance. Though the ambulance could have been repurposed and sold, the commission donated it to the school district for educational purposes instead.
Tovey said helping to provide the best education and training to local youth helps keep them in Southeast Idaho in the long-term.
“If we train our youth here, they are more likely to stay here,” he said.
Being trained in Southeast Idaho and then being able to apply her trade to the area is one of the goals of Madison Line, a senior at Century High School who is enrolled in the 1st Responders Academy. After high school, Line is looking to attend Idaho State University, with the goal of eventually becoming a trauma physician assistant.
She said she is particularly excited about being able to train in the academy's new ambulance.
“I think it’s going to help us improve our skills and know what the real world is going to be like,” Line said. “As an EMT, you’re not just working in a hospital. You’re working in the dirt, you’re working where it’s hard. There's another element of reality that comes into it, and that’s really exciting.”