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House fire leads Conn. student to become certified EMT

Avery Pitts’s family house fire led him to a desire for emergency services work

Old Mystic Fire Department.jpg

Old Mystic, Conn. Fire Department

Old Mystic Fire Department/Facebook

By John Penney
The Day

NEW LONDON, Conn. — New London High School senior Avery Pitts was 11 years old when a fire ripped through his family’s Mystic home several years ago.

“I saw the glass on the ground and firefighters doing their overhaul work,” Pitts, now 17, said on Thursday. “Instead of being traumatized by that, I learned from it.”

But it was a quieter moment about two years later that galvanized Pitts’ love for emergency services work.

“I was a Boy Scout and took a group of Cub Scouts to a firehouse,” he said. “The firefighters were letting them play with their jackets and boots and letting them sit on the rigs. Watching that interaction, that’s when I fell in love with the fire service.”

Avery this month became the first New London High student to be awarded a national EMT certification after completing a school-based EMT course in 2023, at the time one of the few such programs offered in a high school class setting.

The intensive 200-hour course included a year of classroom work and a series of ride-alongs with the New London Fire Department that culminated with the written and practical exams he passed earlier this month.

Course instructor Joshua Beebe, a veteran paramedic who teaches bio-medical classes at the New London High Multi-Magnet School, said he introduced the EMT program partly to address the declining numbers of EMTs serving in volunteer fire and ambulance departments across the country.

“At the time, there were very few high schools offering this program, but now there’s 25 in the state doing it,” said Beebe, the EMS program coordinator for Eastern Connecticut State University who also works for the Mohegan Tribal Fire Department and American Ambulance.

Beebe, 47, started his first EMT class at the high school in 2021 with 11 students and saw 12 more students sign up for the most recent class. He said one big advantage to offering the program at the school is accessibility.

“This is a $1,500 class that we can offer for free to students and they end up with four college credits,” Beebe said.

Pitts joined the Old Mystic Fire Department as a junior volunteer at age 14 working at the department as an emergency medical responder. That job typically entails taking a patient’s vitals and medical history.

Now, with an EMT certification under his belt, Pitts can administer a small number of drugs — oral glucose, oxygen, nitroglycerin, aspirin — and assist with leading medical calls.

“I was ecstatic when I heard I passed the (EMT tests),” he said. “There was so much studying and the questions got harder as you went along. I started out confident I passed and then began second-guessing myself.”

Beebe had no such reservations.

“I had no doubt, which is why I made him my teacher’s assistant for the second EMT class,” he said.

Pitts said he plans to continue adding to his fire and emergency medical resume with college degrees in paramedic and fire science.

“I want to start as a fire medic and can see myself one day being a teacher,” he said.

New London Fire Chief Thomas Curcio, whose firefighters work closely with the EMT students, said he first raised the idea of a high school EMT program about three years ago, just about the time Beebe also began working on the same initiative.

“I graduated from New London High and was born and raised here, so I want to see New London students get into this work,” he said on Friday. “For students not college-bound, they can get an EMT card after graduating high school and go on to work as transporters, as emergency room techs and at fire departments.”

Curcio, who said he’d like to start an introductory fire service class at the high school at some point, said his paid department is not immune to hiring issues faced by emergency volunteer agencies.

“We struggle with hiring, too,” he said. “I’d love to get some New London residents excited about this kind of work and hired by the city.”

Beebe said he sees the high school course as an antidote to the recruiting and retention “struggles” facing volunteer departments. He said the classes also address another problem: A lack of diversity in the EMT field.

“I’ve always been blunt about the need for getting more people of color into that field, especially in a diverse city like New London,” he said, adding that several students of color were members of the first two school EMT courses. “Kids really want to be in this field and this is a way to lower the barriers for them. And we get homegrown EMTs ready to work in Connecticut .”

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