EWU is Training a New Generation of First Responders

University to launch new medical services certificate

March 31, 2023

This fall, Eastern Washington University will launch a 16-credit emergency medical services certificate that will help students develop critical skills and knowledge.

As a precursor, a pilot 10-credit emergency medical technician course, considered the “meat and potatoes” of the certificate program, is well underway with 15 students – including five Cheney firefighters – learning the basics of saving lives.

The course, taught in partnership with the Cheney Fire Department, is leading to enhanced training as students work side-by-side with first responders in the community.

“Our students have been able to ride along with the Cheney Fire Department and actually provide care on some real-world medical emergencies. The feedback has been that they’ve been doing an excellent job,” says Jeff Anderson, battalion chief for the Cheney Fire Department. Anderson co-instructs the class with Nate Lawton, senior lecturer for health and wellness at EWU.

Three EWU students taking the EMT class have already used their newly acquired skills to make a meaningful` impact for people in the community, Anderson says. “One of our students saved a life at a restaurant he works at. A woman was choking, and he was able to basically save her.”

Completing the EMT coursework opens the door for students to apply for and gain a national registry certificate. That, in conjunction with working for a local medical agency, also gives students access to a Washington state medical license.

“What’s great about this is once students have their [EMT] certificate, once they find their agency to affiliate with, they can make a pretty good living during college,” explains Lawton, who adds that the jobs often have somewhat flexible hours.

When the EMS certificate launches this fall, it will introduce additional classes focused on basic life support, medical terminology and “mental health first aid” aimed at first responders.

“The rates of PTSD and mental trauma in first responders are incredibly high, so our goal is to arm the students with protective tools before they get into the field,” Lawton says.

Students will also be offered the opportunity to earn one-to-five credits for field experience, with a goal of each student gaining 30-150 hours of experience providing some type of medical care.

Planning was underway for the certificate when Lawton reached out to Fire Chief Tom Jenkins regarding a potential partnership. At the same time, the chief had been looking to create an EMS cadet program — this after fielding numerous queries over the years from EWU students hoping to intern with the Cheney Fire Department.

The nuts and bolts of the EMS certification program grew organically when he first reached out in June 2022, Lawton recalls. It then immediately gained momentum. “We’ve got great interest from students and we’ve had collaboration with some of the volunteer firefighters in Cheney. It has been an awesome experience,” Lawton says.

Lawton and Anderson leverage their connections to enrich the course. For example, experts on autism and cultural competency recently gave a presentation to students to help them gain an understanding of how to best help people from a wide range of backgrounds.

In addition, first responders have pitched in to help with their training.

“Every one of our career firefighters has come up at one point or another to help out with practical [training],” Anderson says. “They are just seeing such buy-in with that class that they are really going above and beyond to support [the students] in any way they can.”

The class, which requires about 16 hours a week of coursework and supplemental hours in field work, has generated the most interest from students pursuing degrees in nursing, speech, physical and occupational therapies, pre-medicine and athletic training.

And for good reason, Lawton explains: It was an athletic trainer utilizing EMT skills who rendered life-saving aid when Damar Hamlin, a 24-year-old who plays safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a life-threatening cardiac event during a game.

In fact, the two instructors say the program has applications for just about any career. “There is no downside to having extra medical training in life,” Anderson says.