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New program trains high school students to become EMTs

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MT. HOREB (WKOW) — As emergency agencies around the state struggle to find enough volunteers, one local department is launching a new effort to recruit young people.

Mt. Horeb Fire Department is starting a pilot program in fall that will train high school students to be EMTs.

It’s a semester-long course that will begin to build a new generation of responders.

“I’ve always known I wanted to do something in the medical field and I always knew I could never sit around in an office all day,” said Natalie O’Connell, who’s set to take the first course. “Just being a part of this town growing up, you kind of see the fire department around and I kind of always knew I wanted to do something with it.”

O’Connell is one of nine students who will start the class in fall. It’s taught by Madison College staff at the fire department.

The students will get hands-on training and learn how to serve their community.

“Whether they stay in Mt. Horeb and volunteer or not, they’re going to take life skills that they can use elsewhere,” said Chief Eric Brinkmann. “They’re going to be exposed to pre-hospital care, they’re going to be exposed to hospital care, they’ll get a whole gamut of the EMS and nursing side and that kind of career choice opportunity. Plus, they had the opportunity to be a part of something pretty special here in Mt. Horeb.”

Brinkmann hopes it could be a model for other volunteer departments struggling with staffing shortages.

“You just have to show the interest in the high school kids then get them in the door. And I think every place should have an opportunity to do this if they want to put the time and effort into the kids,” said Brinkmann.

Nearly 40 percent of EMS staff in Wisconsin are volunteers, some working for no pay. A quarter of all EMS workers have been on the job more than 20 years, according to a 2017-2018 survey done by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

More than half of all EMS agencies are in rural areas, where responders are covering more territory with fewer resources. Mt. Horeb’s service area is the biggest in Dane County.

Somehow though, that department hasn’t had a big problem finding volunteers.

“We’re running at big numbers compared to other places who are struggling to get people and I think that’s because of our family atmosphere,” Chief Brinkmann said.

Brinkmann’s family is just one of many who’ve left a big impact on the department. He’s been with the department since 1990 and took over as chief from his brother who held the job before him. Before that, it was his uncle, mother and grandfather leading the firefighters and EMS staff. It’s an 80-year legacy.

Now, his twin sons are getting ready to take the new EMT class to join their brother and father on the crew. They’ve already gone through a similar firefighter training course.

“I guess it just runs in the family,” Max Brinkmann told 27 News. “When we’re on calls with him, it’s kind of like a bonding experience. And he really likes going to fires and training with us, because there’s more memories we can make with each other.”

The EMT class starts in fall with nine Mt. Horeb students. The school district is only able to fund six students in the fall, so the department is working to raise $9,000 to pay for three more students who are already enrolled.

If you’d like to help, you can make a monetary donation at the following locations:
-Mt. Horeb High School EMT
State Bank of Cross Plains
-Mt. Horeb Public Safety Building
400 Blue Mounds St.

Checks can be made out to the Mt. Horeb Volunteers with High School EMT in the memo line or to the Mt. Horeb High School EMT class.

There will also be a “share day” held at Culvers in Mt. Horeb on Wednesday, July 17 and another fundraiser put on by Leo Peterson and the Firehouse Bar and Grill on Saturday, August 10.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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