Withstanding the heat
Students work to earn EMT status at Glen Echo Fire Department
AU students are finding a unique outlet to serve the D.C. metropolitan community: working as volunteers for the Glen Echo Fire Department, just over two miles northwest of campus in Maryland.
The station is composed of both career and volunteer firefighters and EMS providers, many of whom are students from campuses across the District.
Henry Clapp is a junior at AU who began volunteering at Glen Echo during his freshman year. He said that the experience working for GEFD has been incredibly rewarding.
“Wherever you are going to go, it’ll teach you critical decision making, communication skills,” Clapp said.
Clapp works with the department’s newest volunteers. He said that following an application process and interview, new volunteers are voted into the department as probationary officers. Probationary officers first take an orientation class taught by Clapp and then begin to ride in the ambulance as an observer.
From there, probationary officers work to obtain their Charge EMT status, which allows them to serve as the officer in charge of an ambulance. The exact process is different at each firehouse, but all require prospective candidates to obtain their EMT card, Clapp said. Those certification courses are taught at locations across the city, including at Georgetown University and George Washington University.
At GEFD, it generally takes a year for probationary officers to complete the requirements for their Charge EMT Status. During that time, probationary officers take a series of time-intensive courses that train them on the variety of skills necessary to serve as an emergency medical provider, according to the GEFD website.
While that process can be demanding, Emily Wu, a junior at AU and volunteer at GEFD, looks favorably upon her experience at GEFD.
“It changed my life,” Wu said. “The friends that I’ve made are friends that I’ll have for life.”
Working in an ambulance is only one of several roles that volunteers at GEFD can take on. Wu is currently part of a fire class and is training to serve as a firefighter at GEFD. After obtaining their Charge EMT status, volunteers can work towards other positions within the department.
“You have access to all the same training that every career firefighter has,” said Clapp, who is on track to become an ambulance driver. “You can be trained to do swift water rescue on the Potomac river or repel down buildings.”
Volunteers make up a significant portion of firefighters in America. According to a report by the National Fire Protection Association, 70 percent of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers. Out of the close to 40 volunteers that serve at GEFD, more than half are students from the surrounding area.
Many students become involved at the beginning of their college career so that they can finish their training before they graduate, Wu said.
“If you are on the fence about it, start thinking about it earlier on, maybe in your freshman or sophomore year,” Clapp said. “If you want to make it one of your priorities, it's going to be an incredibly rewarding experience.”
While GEFD requires a two-year commitment, many of the students who became volunteers continue their service after they graduate. Some continue to pursue work at the department while others take the skills they obtained at GEFD to other careers, Wu said.
Wu plans on pursuing medical school after graduating from AU, but said she will continue to volunteer as long as she can.
“Balancing school and fireclass has been difficult, but it's very rewarding,” Wu said.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's November 2018 fall print edition.