Pa. town implements multi-tier EMS approach, recruits college students

The Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department upgraded its quick response unit, primarily run by college students, to increase staffing levels


By Tyler Dague
The Meadville Tribune, Pa.

VERNON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Upgrading emergency services is just one of a few recent changes to the Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department.

The VFD put a new EMS squad in-service Aug. 29 and upgraded its quick response unit (QRS) to the level of basic life support. Each vehicle in the VFD's feet is now capable of providing emergency medical care at the basic life support level.

The fire department put a new EMS squad in-service Aug. 29 and upgraded its quick response unit (QRS) to the level of basic life support. (Photo/Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department)
The fire department put a new EMS squad in-service Aug. 29 and upgraded its quick response unit (QRS) to the level of basic life support. (Photo/Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department)

This change is one of many in a multi-tiered plan to emphasize EMS within the township and Crawford County. The VFD provides opportunities for becoming certified EMTs for Allegheny College students and also introduced a new student shadow program for college students who want to learn more before joining. According to the department, the program has tripled the number of certified and active EMTs there. It has also rolled out a new website, vtvfd.com.

In conjunction with the renewed focus on emergency services, the VFD also appointed a new EMS captain, Spencer Jared, a junior neuroscience major at Allegheny. In addition, the department has developed new educational standards. For example, a substantial emphasis is put on evidence-based medicine, which integrates scientific research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Jared said the plans to move forward on EMS capabilities started a few years ago when Vernon Township VFD Chief Derek Leskowak began bringing college students into the department's membership. Now, there are 15 college students committed to the department and already two participants in the student shadow program.

"We have a lot of people who have expressed interest in becoming an EMT but have reservations about joining a fire department commitment," Jared said. "There’s a lot of stereotypes about what a fire department is, a mainly bravado type of culture. They weren’t sure if that was right for them. There were a lot of people who had this borderline interest. What we wanted to do is bridge that rift."

Those in the shadow program or any of the training programs Vernon Township VFD provides are free to join any fire department, Jared said, noting the often collaborative nature of departments across Crawford County and an effort to stop dwindling numbers of first responders statewide.

"There is a general lack of or decrease in emergency medical providers in the country and specifically Pennsylvania," Jared said. "We’re losing people every year. It does make it really hard to provide these services when people aren’t getting EMTs. We wanted to make that an incentivized program."

Amelia Rockwell, department second lieutenant and also a junior at Allegheny, and Jared stressed the importance of continuing the different training options for interested students long after they graduate.

"The EMS service we’re operating here is primarily run by the college students," Rockwell said. "There is a big incentive to advance skills for going into the medical field and being interested in the paramedical level. Beforehand with our QRS service, there wasn’t anyone available for long spans of time, for days or hours. We weren’t available for the community to respond and help them in EMS emergencies, but now, we’re pretty much all in service because there’s always someone available to go on these calls."

Long-term plans for the department include partnering with the regional EMS council, obtaining an official education center license and advancing the level of life support the department can provide. Jared, who is already teaching for the American Red Cross, said he was also working to become a certified state EMS instructor and is working to make Vernon Township a destination for those interested in the field.

"We want to encourage people to become better providers in every way, regardless of affiliation, regardless of money," Jared said. "All emergency services is a team effort. If I want to be the best, I need the person next to me to be the best. We’re only as strong as our weakest link."

Jared also discussed the department's renewed commitment to inclusivity, having changed its bylaws and terminology to create a welcoming atmosphere for all who want to participate. Rockwell noted the department has several female firefighters and EMTs and said it was important that they show it wasn't just a place for men.

"If someone wants to serve the community, it’s their right to, and no one should really get in the way of that," Jared said. "In total, what we’re going for is a rebranding of Vernon Township and I think, on a large scale, of what it means to be emergency services in Crawford County. We definitely want to be a role model for other departments of what they can potentially do."

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©2019 The Meadville Tribune (Meadville, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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