By Kris Lovekin / San Bernardino Community College District
Nolan Newkirk was just a toddler when the crash happened. But he remembers every moment.
There was a sudden crunch. His mom kept talking to him, but she couldn’t move her arms from the steering wheel. Then the firefighters in yellow coats arrived, wrapped her head in a collar and gently lifted her out of the car.
“She has a titanium plate in her neck to this day,” he said.
He was not injured, but his life took on a different shape and a direction that day. He knew he wanted to be one of the rescuers.
At 14, he was a fire explorer with Big Bear Fire. Now 21, he has finished training at Crafton Hills College to be an Emergency Medical Technician. He works part time with an ambulance company. He finished the Crafton Fire Academy. And now he is finishing his certificate as a Paramedic.
“That’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” he said. “If I can pay that forward to a kid, that would be absolutely huge.”
He chose the program because it is just down the hill from his Big Bear home. But it happens to get high marks from state officials. Years ago, it was the first community college based program in California to earn a national accreditation, and in May, 2018, the Crafton Hills College EMT and Paramedic programs were named “gold star” programs based on their outcomes in employment and earnings. Graduates pass their licensing tests and the programs have a 91 percent rate of employment in the field of study according to a recent award letter from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. The 2017 employment rate jumped to 96 percent.
It takes a year of training to be ready for paramedic testing and certification. Students work on realistic models and mannequins under the guidance of program instructors, who have honed surprisingly acute acting skills to use on “lab days.”
They play the patient and slur their speech or name their medications as teams of students play the responding paramedics.
“My vision is not blurry, but hazy,” the instructor says slowly, acting quite confused. “I have kind of a headache.”
“Are you having trouble talking to us?” Newkirk asks.
“I… know… what… I.. want… to… say.”
“But you can’t get it out?” Newkirk asks.
Another student says “Squeeze my hands with both of yours. Okay, I notice a weak right grip. We are going to transfer you to the nearest stroke center.”
With the mystery successfully solved, the confused patient who was calling herself “Alice” sits up and starts offering a fast critique. Now she is Noelle Drazin, a faculty member who graduated from the program in 2009. She starts offering a fast critique.
“Check both the upper and lower body,” she said. “You can ask her to lift her feet. She does not have to have a full face droop. Sometimes that comes later.”
In a nearby room, another team of students are crouched down in a circle around a mannequin wired up to have a pulse and regular breath. The mannequin is lying on the floor. All they know is that he has been vomiting and dizzy.
Then the visual line for the heart beat goes flat. The team leader starts spitting out orders to his teammates for CPR. His voice is strained as he hurries to save the life of this plastic patient. The tension in the room grows as he realizes that he needs to shock the heart, but the pads aren’t in the right place. After a few loud exclamations, he tries again, and again. Eventually the instructor stops the action to debrief.
“That was rough,” the student said, clearly shaken.
“He was in v-fib, but you said v-tach,” the instructor chides gently. But she complimented him on correcting himself before he administered a wrong dose of medicine. “If you say the dose wrong but you correct before you administer the medication, that will save you,” she said.
She is not talking about the patient, but about final exams, which are only a week away at that point. The students are on high alert. With matching clothes and close cropped hair, they have spent the year becoming a team. Plus, in addition to classes, most of them work shifts with an ambulance or fire company.
James Fowler, 24, has worked five years as an EMT, and he is looking forward to moving up as a licensed paramedic. He has developed that calm demeanor so common in first responders. No matter what is happening, the response must stay calm, he said. You can move quickly, but your voice has to stay even. Otherwise, the patients start to panic.
He said he was drawn to emergency services by the action. “I’m the type of person who has to pick things up and play with them,” he said.
All 20 of this year’s students are male, said Kathy Crow, who directs the Crafton Hills College Paramedic program. Other years have had more women in them.
She said her own journey to becoming a Paramedic happened almost by accident when a temp agency sent her to be an administrative assistant at a private ambulance company. The first time she rode in an ambulance she was hooked, and she went to get her own training.
Paramedic program students must already have their EMT training and 1,000 hours of real life work. EMTs are part of the team but they take orders from a licensed Paramedic.
The program, which was founded in 1982, keeps track of their graduates and where they work. They ask them to return to teach or supervise during lab days. They also use industry professionals as supervisors during field training, which takes place inside medical facilities and within ambulance and fire companies.
That kind of connection to industry is strongly encouraged by the state of California, which has 114 community colleges offering Career and Technical Education. Fees for the programs are much lower than at private technical schools.
For instance, the cost for the year of paramedic training is about $4,500 and there is state financial aid available for students who cannot afford it.
Private technical schools tend to be more expensive, and rely on loan programs. Crow, the paramedic program director, estimates that a student would spend four times as much on tuition at a private program.
Find out more about training at Crafton Hills College:
About San Bernardino Community College District
We serve 21 cities in the heart of Inland Southern California and open doors of opportunity for 21,000 students through two fully-accredited campuses: Crafton Hills College and San Bernardino Valley College. We cultivate minds and transform our community through the Economic Development & Corporate Training division and KVCR, the region’s National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television affiliate station. SBCCD generates $621 million in local economic activity each year. Learn more: Watch our video.
Board of Trustees
Joseph Williams, President
Gloria Macias Harrison, Vice President
Dr. Anne L. Viricel, Clerk
Donna Ferracone, Member
John Longville, Member
Frank Reyes, Member
Dr. Donald L. Singer, Member
Autumn Blackburn, Student Trustee (SBVC)
Jajuan Dotson, Student Trustee (CHC)
Bruce R. Baron
Diana Z. Rodriguez, San Bernardino Valley College