Many county EMS workers got their first taste of the job as teenage cadets. For Capt. Kim Grimes, the experience was both sobering and intriguing.
She was 16 at the time, and both of her parents worked for Smithfield EMS. Many of her first calls were serious accidents involving teenagers.
“It was a learning experience,” Grimes said. “It certainly matured me; you find out you’re not invincible the way a lot of kids think they are.”
This summer, Grimes and her fellow paramedics hope to begin sharing that experience with the next generation. Johnston County EMS is launching a cadet program, something Chief Josh Holloman has wanted to do for years.
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“We know there are kids out there that have an interest in it,” he said. “Right now, if they live in the areas Johnston County serves, they don’t have that opportunity.”
Many of the county’s paramedics, including Grimes and Holloman, were cadets first, in the days when towns had rescue squads with cadet programs. The county has since taken over most emergency medical care in Johnston.
Holloman said a cadet program is a good way to get young people who are interested hooked on the profession.
“They can’t get EMT certification until they’re 18, and by that time, they’ve decided to do something else,” Holloman said.
Holloman said he grew up wanting to be a firefighter or paramedic. A cadet program gave him the chance to try it out; that helped him make his career choice.
“There are those calls where you go out and make a real difference in people’s lives,” Holloman said. “As a 15-, 16-year-old, that was incredible.”
In the county program, cadets will help paramedics on actual calls. They’ll receive training in CPR, bandaging, hemorrhage control, taking vital signs and using emergency equipment. Grimes said they’ll be able to use what they’ve learned in the field.
But she also wants to assure parents the cadets won’t be in danger. They will be under the direct supervision of paramedics, and if a situation is too dangerous, they will stay in the truck.
The program will require students maintain a C average; they will have to show their report cards every nine weeks. Grimes said the cadet program would prefer students who have had no run-ins with law. “I guess we’re looking for a nice, upstanding citizen,” she said.
Cadets will also have to show they’re serious and responsible/ demonstrate they’re responsible. “This isn’t going to be a hangout,” she said, pointing to the lounge in the EMS station in Benson.
The program is open to students ages 15 to 18. Cadets will attend four weekend training sessions before being assigned to a station. Training dates have not been set yet; they’ll start whenever the program has enough applicants.
Some of the cadets will find the profession is not for them, Holloman said, and that’s OK. But if history is any indicator, the cadet program could also serve as a vital recruitment tool for the department.
“We have to grow the next generation of paramedics and leaders,” Holloman said.