ANSWERING THE CALL: Eastern Hancock teens training to become EMTs

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NEW CASTLE — Two Eastern Hancock High School seniors are getting a taste of what it will be like saving lives when they become certified Emergency Medical Technicians in the spring.

If all goes according to plan, Abby Ebbert and Gracie Beaudry, both 17, will become certified after completing their training through the New Castle Career Center.

Each weekday morning, the teens head to the New Castle Emergency Medical Services dispatch center, where they’re trained in a classroom of fellow high school seniors who share one common goal — to become EMTs.

For many, the job is a step along the path toward a different medical-based career.

Gracie hopes to one day become a biomedical engineer, helping develop robotic and prosthetic limbs.

Abby plans to become an occupational therapist, and also serve as an EMT at the Shirley Fire Department alongside her family.

Her dad, Andy Ebbert, is chief of the Shirley Fire Department, where her uncle Danny and sister Emily are both firefighters and EMTs.

“It runs in the family,” she said during a break from class last week.

Class instructor Bill Hufford said the program is designed to train students to save lives.

The class members will take an exam in the spring to become certified EMTs.

The New Castle training program got two huge boosts when it gained an ambulance simulator two years ago and a training ambulance rig this past September.

Both are used to make learning scenarios more realistic for students.

While seated in class, Hufford will randomly sound the alarm, prompting those students manning the walkie-talkies for the day to alert their squad of classmates and take mock emergency calls.

At the snap of a finger, the students are up and out of their seats, scrambling into the simulator inside the classroom or in the training ambulance parked outside.

“The hands-on scenarios are so much more effective than just book learning,” said Abby, who finds the adrenaline-pumping training exciting.

The inside of the ambulance simulator looks like a real ambulance, with bright red lights flashing on the outside and a gurney and all the necessary medical equipment packed inside.

Last week, Abby and Gracie gingerly loaded a 150-pound mannequin into the back of the simulator, then proceeded to check for breathing and a pulse. At Hufford’s command, the duo practiced various life-saving techniques on the life-size dummy, which the class has dubbed “Mr. Medical.”

“We have to be prepared to transport people. We also practice on each other, carrying each other up the stairs,” Abby said.

From strapping a person onto a backboard to performing CPR, the students train diligently to make sure they’re prepared when they test to become certified in the spring.

Both Abby and Gracie plan to work as EMTs to help pay their way through college.

“A lot of us try to get our foot in the medical door on our way to do something else,” said Gracie, who hopes to attend Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology next fall.

The teen has gravitated towards STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) since she was a young girl.

After her EMT training began, she witnessed someone having a life-threatening allergic reaction, and was able to calmly help administer an EpiPen. Her EMT training is instilling in her the confidence to help those in need, which was the whole point of joining the program, she said.

“I want to know, whether it’s my family or a stranger on the street, that I can help in an emergency if I need to,” said Gracie, the daughter of Josh and Jessica Beaudry.

Abby, the daughter of Andy and Shantelle Ebbert, had her own chance to apply her medical response skills last week when a man at the restaurant where she works became unresponsive, and she quickly stepped in to check his pulse.

Hufford is proud of how far Abby, Gracie and their classmates have come since the course started in early August.

“This is a great group of students. They’re very motivated. When they take their exam to become certified (in the spring), they’ll be more than ready,” he said.

When he trained to become an EMT back in 1981, Hufford underwent about 80 hours of training, he said, while his students today undergo about 200 hours.

Plus, he didn’t have the advantage of learning in a working ambulance or a simulator.

“Those are real game-changers,” said Hufford, who also teaches an EMT class for adults at the New Castle center. “Working on someone who is in cardiac arrest feels much different in a moving ambulance than it does sitting in a classroom. It makes the training as realistic as you can get.”

As an emergency vehicle operator instructor, Hufford can now use the working ambulance to offer the EVOC course to area fire departments and EMS units, as well as his EMT students. The training will generate revenue for the EMT program and certify area responders.

Hufford expressed thanks to New Castle EMS Chief Troy Gibbs and the city’s mayor, Greg York, for donating the ambulance and providing the space for the EMT classroom.

His office at the back of the class houses a collection of miniature ambulances, along with a vintage thermos and photos of the cast from the 1970s television show, “Emergency!”, which followed the work of two young paramedics in Los Angeles.

“That show is what got me into this work,” he said.

Both Gracie and Abby say they also enjoy watching television dramas that portray the fast-paced action of medical personnel.

With their classroom housed within the New Castle emergency service center, the girls can see firsthand just how hectic the life of an EMT can be.

“You can hear their alarms go off all day long. It’s only 10 a.m., and they’ve gone off seven times already,” Gracie said during class this week. “It’s definitely humbling realizing how hard their jobs are.”

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