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‘I think this course should be required in every school’

EMT Class Is Crash Course in Critical Thinking


Jessica Fillmore was sprawled on the ground, having just fallen from a roof. Classmate Kelsey Russell was the first at her side. She asked a series of questions to assess her friend’s condition, then “log-rolled” Jessica over to check her spine. Finally, Kelsey spoke calmly: “We’re going to transport you to the hospital and check out that injury.”

Jessica wasn’t really injured, of course. Either was the teen to her left, laidout by a theoretical car accident. Or the one across the room, arm immobile from an imaginary gunshot wound.

It was Kelsey’s role-playing that was key in that scenario. She and the 20 other students enrolled this year in Grandville High School’s Emergency Medical Technician class hope to be qualified by the spring to take the examination for certification.

Along with assessing patients, the Grandville seniors will learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), insert tubes needed to open blocked airways and measure vital signs such as blood pressure. As part of the class, students also are required to go on ride-alongs during regular Life EMS ambulance shifts and to work a pair of shifts in a hospital emergency room.

Teacher Kristy Rieger said students should consider entering the program even if they don’t want to become a paramedic

Science teacher Kristy Rieger has been leading the EMT classes in Grandville for six years. She took over — and went through the certification herself — when the program’s creator, science teacher Tom Krepps, retired.

An Eye-Opener for Many Students

The class has been offered in Grandville for nearly 20 years in partnership with Michigan-based Life EMS Ambulance, Rieger said. There is a similar program at Innovation Central High School in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district. At Grandville, those who apply must have achieved a B or better in human biology to be considered.

“To have a program like this in a high school is extremely unique,” said Jason Courtade, a Life EMS paramedic and instructor who helps lead the high school classes. “I think this course should be required in every school. It gives you such a good foundation for how to handle emergencies, basic injuries, when to call 911 and when not to, and all those critical-thinking situations you can’t learn about in school.”

Students who complete the training “will have a huge leg up no matter what they do after high school,” said Courtade, a 2004 Grandville graduate who also took the course.

EMT students work to open the airway of a “patient”

Rieger said many of her students go on to some type of medical work. Kelsey, the roof faller-offer-responder, says she hopes to work in occupational therapy, nursing or as a physician’s assistant.

Her imaginary patient and classmate, Jessica, plans a career in medical research. Another in this year’s class is the third in his family to become EMT certified through the class at Grandville High.

Rieger said students should consider entering the program even if they don’t want to become a paramedic.

“I feel like they have the opportunity to leave high school with a different perspective,” she said. “They will have seen what it looks like when things go very very poorly for people, when they are in situations where they need medical help.

“We end up having really good conversations here. It can be very eye-opening for them.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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