Tuition-Free EMTs:MVC Teams Up to Train Future First Responders

For some, college is a stepping-stone — not much more than a means to an end. But for students like Naasen Harmon, it’s essential that higher education comes with a higher calling.

“I just didn’t feel motivated,” Harmon reflects on his first foray into college. Unsatisfied with general education classes, he craved connection, passion, and the opportunity to do something that really mattered.

That’s when the former athlete, who yearned for a way to avoid cubicle life and work on a team to help people, found his second wind as a first responder.

“That’s a good career with a good retirement, and you can still be active,” says the Moreno Valley College grad and future firefighter. “It really excited me.”

Jazzed about the possibilities, Harmon was checking out CalJOBS listings when a unique opportunity knocked. It turned out that the Riverside County Workforce Development Center was offering to cover tuition for qualified residents to take EMT training at MVC.

“Workforce just popped out of the blue,” effuses Harmon. “It was just like some divine thing.”

Through the kismet connection, Harmon started EMT courses at MVC’s Ben Clark Training Center and never looked back. Buoyed by the school’s stellar success rate on the National Registry EMT exam, he felt totally prepared to pass the difficult test. That success, in turn, motivated him to try even more:

“It made me go to the Fire Academy because I loved it so much,” recalls Harmon. And because the EMT certification is a prerequisite for the Fire Academy, the aspiring first responder found himself in the fast lane for a future career. Today, he needs only a few more classes to complete his second certification.

As excited as Harmon is to pursue a job as a firefighter, he doesn’t plan to stop there, either. With more experience under his belt, he hopes to return to Moreno Valley College soon to become a paramedic.

“They’re really hiring medics, so that’s why I really want to go back to school,” says Harmon, thrilled to have so many versatile options in his dream career. “I’m trying to get the best position and also make myself the best candidate.”

The thrill is catching, according to Stephanie Adams, Regional Manager with Riverside County Workforce Development. Tasked with matching qualified workers to workforce opportunities and closing regional skills gaps, Adams is eager to help more students like Harmon become public servants.

“You have tuition, but then, you also have other things that come along, like the cost of the uniform, books and CPR card,” explains Adams. “In the big scheme of things, those items can add up — especially if you want to get into this career path, and you don’t have the funds to pay for it up-front.”

Eligibility for Workforce Development’s program is based on income, and once approved, the Center connects participants with regional EMT training centers like MVC. The new tuition assistance program began recently as a first response to American Medical Response’s (AMR) massive shortage of EMTs. It’s a team effort, combining the forces of the Workforce Development Center, the employer, and the College to train more cadets to join the essential workforce.

“AMR, as of right now, is looking at hiring approximately 25 EMTs per month throughout Riverside County,” explains Adams.

It’s a tall order to fill, but the partners are ready to tackle the challenge. A handful of students have already gone through the pilot program, and this year, the Center is gearing up to sponsor about 50 trainees through Moreno Valley College’s EMT program.

The timing couldn’t be better, according to Phillip “Phil” Rawlings, Dean of Instruction of the School of Public Safety at MVC’s Ben Clark Training Center. He says it was a “no brainer” to join forces in an attempt to launch the first responders of tomorrow.

“The EMT component is the entry level into EMS, but it’s also a prerequisite to our fire technology programs,” says Rawlings. After EMT training, students can work in the field and gain experience while continuing their educational pathway in the fire service and beyond. They can also enroll in the next level of EMS through the paramedic program.

For students like Harmon who ultimately want to travel the paramedic route, Adams says there’s good news.

“AMR has a program that if you work for them for a year, you could apply for a grant, and then they’ll pay for you to go to paramedic school,” says Adams. “It leads to a great, high-level career path where residents can earn a really good income.”

The demand for EMTs and paramedics is skyrocketing at 11 percent annually in California, nearly double the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rawlings adds that local demand is reaching critical levels, citing a retirement boom as the most significant challenge: “We’ve got to get these young men and women trained and out into the field so that they can provide those essential services to the public.”

Meanwhile, soaring demand represents a tremendous opportunity for students who are excited about making a difference in a meaningful career.

“Between our fire and EMS programs, within three months of completion of those programs, we pretty much have 100-percent employment,” says the dean.

Grads go on to become ambulance service personnel, firefighters, and first responders across private and public sectors, with students often getting snapped up before graduation.

“We as colleges need to step up and provide that training and education,” says Rawlings. “It’s about providing what the community needs.”

Right now, MVC and the Workforce Development Center are actively recruiting, hoping to attract as many EMTs as possible to assuage local demand.

“The program is growing,” says Adams. “We’ve actually received great feedback from students who have gone through the program, and they are grateful for it.”

Harmon is excited about what the future holds in fire tech and beyond. And looking back, he says that he’s come farther than he thought possible because of Moreno Valley College.

“I appreciate all of the people that come into Ben Clark,” recalls the rising first responder. “I’m definitely thankful to all of the instructors in the EMT and Fire Technology Programs.”

Know someone who’d like to kickstart a career as an EMT or firefighter, tuition-free? Contact Riverside County Workforce Development Center’s Lelay Galloway: (951) 791-3504 or Lelay.Galloway@rivco.org

Sources:

Summary Report for Firefighters, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-2011.00


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