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La. Explorers program enters 50 years of guiding teens into EMS

Members of the East Baton Rouge EMS Explorers program spend their weekends learning about EMS, serving others


Members of the East Baton Rouge EMS Explorers Program.

East Baton Rouge EMS Explorers Program/Facebook

By Charles Lussier
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. — Zipping across Baton Rouge inside an ambulance en route to an emergency, uncertain what you will soon be facing, is not how most teenagers spend their Saturdays.

But for members of the Baton Rouge EMS Explorers program, which is entering its fifth decade, that’s precisely what they signed up for. These teenagers, typically current or former high school students, forgo the typical weekend routine to learn what it takes to help those in need during those critical minutes before they reach a hospital.

The newest class of Explorers starts up Saturday, Jan. 13 , with an open house at EMS headquarters, located at 3801 Harding Blvd.

Before they can go out in the field, though, they have to learn the trade.

The training starts with a classroom course — eight successive Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at EMS headquarters — in which the teenagers earn licenses as emergency medical responders. At the end, they have to pass a written test as well as a skills test to demonstrate they know what they’re doing.

Jeremany Shorts, 18, took the course two years ago. Now, she is a senior explorer, a role in which she comes back and helps teach newcomers. She recalls those Saturdays in early 2022 were long but fun, and there were frequent breaks.

“The classes don’t feel like classes,” Shorts said. “It’s very interesting, hands-on.”

Baylee Calloni , also 18, remembers the classes as more challenging.

“The book work was exhausting,” she recalled. “You are loaded up with so much information in eight weeks.”

At the same time, Calloni appreciated the many opportunities to set aside the books.

“It was very, very hands-on, and you’re given a lot of opportunities to practice before you take your test,” she said.

The power to heal

Shorts is a recent graduate of Zachary High , and Calloni is a senior at Central High . Both have since become leaders of the Explorers group in Baton Rouge , known as Post 912.

Shorts credits her grandmother for her becoming an Explorer. Her grandmother’s eight-year struggle with cancer marked Jeremany deeply and provoked an interest in medicine.

“I grew up around her being sick, and I just wanted to have the power to heal her,” Shorts recalled.

Shorts found out about Explorers after her grandmother saw an item about it on TV. Similarly, Calloni said her mom saw something on Facebook and shared it with her.

Like Shorts, Calloni already had a well-developed interest in medicine, punctuated by an interest in helping people and making a difference. Calloni said adults wrongly view young people as disinterested, countering that they just don’t know about opportunities like the Explorers.

“The younger generation has the drive to help,” she said.

By the time she was 15, Calloni had decided that her career goal was to become a trauma surgeon, which is still her goal. Surgeons, though, work in hospitals and get to work only after the patient has been suffering for awhile. EMS, by contrast, are present at the first stage of the healing process.

“I mainly wanted to get the feel of what happens before you get to the hospital,” Calloni said.

‘Somebody’s life is on the line’

The cost of the course is $150. Explorers attend schools across the Baton Rouge area. Each class has about 25 students. They can be 14- to 20-year-olds, but it’s increasingly rare for 14-year-olds to be accepted.

Though, post leader Nick Campo said 14-year-olds usually lack the maturity to handle the program, and they need to be 16 years old to do ride-alongs.

After passing the licensing exam, Explorers have to show that they can handle themselves in the field. They start not on ambulances, but on “sprint vehicles” — pickup trucks and other traditional vehicles sent on nonemergency calls that don’t require transporting people to the hospital. It can be a crystallizing experience.

“There are a few of my friends who did the course and then did the sprint and found out it was not for them,” Calloni said.

Shorts, however, found her calling. She has long since graduated to riding ambulances, working shifts during the day many Saturdays. She says the experience helps to further what she wants to be in the medical field.

“No call is exactly the same,” she said.

Calloni recalled a ride where she ended up hugging a scared, upset child all the way to hospital to make him feel safe. She noted that some patients have never been inside an ambulance before.

Both Shorts and Calloni said the calls, while sometimes stressful, have been good tests of their mettle.

“You have to be able to control yourself, because somebody’s life is on the line,” Shorts said.

Show what you know

They got to showcase what they know as part of a four-member team from Baton Rouge that competed last January in Winterfest. The Explorers program is an offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, but members don’t have to be scouts to participate.

Winterfest is an annual competition sponsored by BSA that attracts teams from across the country, going head-to-head in a variety of disciplines. It was the first time in the post’s 40-year history that it competed in Winterfest, and it came away with a second-place trophy in Advanced Trauma Assessment. Short and Calloni plan to return to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where the event returns Feb. 9 to 11 .

For the Advanced Trauma competition, the Baton Rouge team was presented with an emergency scenario in which they had 10 minutes to administer care to a patient, in the form of a mannequin, and explain aloud everything they were doing. Shorts recalled that carrying out the scenario was “very nerve-wracking.”

However, Calloni and Shorts say they learned a lot, which is helping them prepare for the next Winterfest.

“This year, we’re training even harder,” Shorts said.

Calloni is currently applying to colleges and plans to major in biological science and later attend medical school.

Shorts said she plans to take a course this summer to become an emergency medical technician and then seek a job with Baton Rouge EMS. She said she’s not sure if she plans to stay in EMS for good or perhaps go to medical school like Calloni.

But she hasn’t forgotten about the Explorers.

“I want to, hopefully, run the Explorers program one day,” she said.

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