Generation 9-11 

Class of '05 trains to be EMT's

Class of '05 trains to be EMT's

It was my freshman year in high school. I was sitting in Spanish class. Nobody thought it was true.

But we finally convinced our Spanish teacher to turn on the TV. I remember that everyone was quiet for the rest of the day, and in every class we watched it.

Reggie Thomas practices CPR.

But we finally convinced our Spanish teacher to turn on the TV. I remember that everyone was quiet for the rest of the day, and in every class we watched it.

Did we talk about what it meant? I think our world history teacher said something. I’m trying to remember what it was. It was four years ago. I was a freshman, and all I was thinking about was myself.

But I think he said it would start something and that our generation would have to deal with stuff no other generation of Americans had dealt with before.

I remember that was the first time a school ever felt safer than being at home. I figured all those teachers and administrators would know something to do.

It’s not that I’d been afraid of a Columbine thing before. It wasn’t that. I always felt safe in middle school, even after Columbine. I think that scared the parents more than it did us. I mean, at Eastwood they notice if you show off your belly button; how would you not notice students making videos where they blow up people? And there are some weird kids in high school, but I’m telling you those principals watch you like a hawk.

The danger I’m talking about was different. That was all about not paying attention. This was scarier. At the time I thought we were all gonna die. I just wasn’t sure how.

I’m in the EMT class, so I can talk about the firefighters. They won’t tell you. But before 9-11 nobody thought of firefighters. And then after 9-11 it was like they were gods. Before 9-11, you thought of firefighters as saving cats out of a tree. Now you think, “Whoa! Firefighters!”

But that’s not why they’d be there, to be gods. I think they want to be heroes, but real heroes, not fake ones.

The class of 2005 is the class that came to adult awareness the year the World Trade Center towers were shot down. Like the generation that turned 18 in 1942, they were changed forever by it in ways it will probably take decades, or more, to understand. For a few of them, the response was immediate. I want to be one of those people, they thought. The one who saves lives, not takes them.

Finding a vocation is difficult for any young adult, but there are times when, for some, “your own deep passion meets the world’s deep needs.”

In 2002, Lt. Jeff Hayes of the Washington Township Fire Department met with the director of the J. Everett Light Career Center at North Central High School to talk about careers in firefighting and emergency medical technology, and the passion and need came together in a program. The program would draw students from Marion as well as surrounding counties. “Chief Hayes,” as his students call him, was a career firefighter and paramedic, and he wanted to teach. “Chief Hayes really cares about his patients,” one of his students explains. “He stays with them at the hospital and makes sure they get care immediately. He’ll call back the next day. He’s that way with his students. That’s why he’s a teacher. He wants other people to care like that.”

The program began with a teacher and a handful of students. Soon they began receiving donations, and the program grew. The Washington Township Fire Department donated a 1994 Ford MedTech ambulance to the career center. Stryker donated a $4,000 cot. Indianapolis Fire Department donated a fire engine, the fire department in Fairmont, Ind., gave a 4,000 gallon tanker. Departments in Carmel and Cicero gave them fire gear and air packs. Individuals and companies donate cars to JEL and some of those go first to the auto mechanics students and finally to the fire/EMT classes so they can run scenarios that involve extracting one another from wrecked cars.

Some of this June’s approximately 30 students are preparing to go to college to study medical or other fields and some have secured jobs at hospitals, emergency services and fire stations. They spent a year, in some cases two, seeing things that most high school students never see, that most college pre-meds never see until they’re in med school. “People bloated and blue,” one student said, “misshapen and covered in blood.”

“I saw emergency brain surgery,” one girl explained. “They drilled into this woman’s head. You know how you see wood shavings flying off a drill? That was like her head.”

She was in the emergency room when a girl came in who was eclamptic. Non-stop seizing. “She had five seizures,” the cadet explains, “before her parents called 911. For the whole nine months of pregnancy, she denied she was pregnant. She was combative. I don’t know whether she’s still alive or not.”

Another student explains how, on a ride out with the Fire Department, he helped with an attempted suicide. “The girl had slit her wrist nine times across instead of up and down,” he said. “She’s screaming at the top of her lungs, gnawing on the pits of her arms.”

In an ER rotation, another student saw a patient who’d been ejected from a car. “He looked like he was scalped,” the student said. “He had pretty much de-gloved his hands. No skin.”

And there are the patients who come into the emergency room drunk on Listerine or suffering from gunshot wounds. The miscarriages where they saw the fetus simply slide out, unwilled, between a woman’s legs.

Reggie Thomas, Ryan Daniels and Laura Neville extract Andy Chu from a mock accident.
They’re kids — 17, 18, 19. Now and then one of them will see something that’s hard to handle, but for the most part they’re matter-of-fact and earnest about what they do. They learn the proper techniques and they learn when to use them, and they know they’re well-trained. Soldiers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel. There’s a similar psychology. You can be interested in the things that can happen to a human body, and compassionate, but it can be too painful to both do your job and to think about what it means.
J. Everett Light Career Center

Thank you for volunteering for us. You did very good. Thank you for letting us touch your fireman clothing. You were very, very, very cool. Everybody loved you. So did I. —note written by a third-grader to the students of Chief Hayes’ and Cranfill’s firefighting class

It begins in the classroom, as it does with any class. And until the first weekend runs or the Saturday in the ER, it seems like play. If you were to visit the classroom, that’s how it might seem to you.

There’s a cussing jar: When you cuss, you put in a quarter. “We have $14.50,” says one of the students, proudly. Look around. “Fred,” the vinyl head used to practice intubation, lies on a table in ecstasy, waiting to be poked and bagged and prodded. A plastic baby with a plastic placenta is lying on another table, waiting to be born. There are sweet notes from children whose grade schools they’ve visited with the fire truck, posters of the Heroes of Sept. 11, HazMat suits the color of lime LifeSavers, toy fire trucks and ambulances, a pink fire boot and a child-sized fire hat.

And there are the posters and 3Ds of musculature and the circulation system that you’d see in any biology classroom with the difference that it takes its place alongside cool equipment and everywhere, the photographs of fire. “Man,” one student says, “look at the weird stuff you can see in a fire. This one has a phoenix in it. And here’s the devil.

“There’s a devil in every picture of fire, but this one looks like an angel. See, there are its wings.”

Instructor Jeff Hayes

Today, they’re playing at what later may save someone’s life. They laugh and joke as they pose for the photographer, taking one another’s vital signs, intubating Fred, covering a real boy, Chu, with moulage — fake blood in every shade of oxidation, movie blood — getting ready for an elaborate scenario where Chu will be trapped, pretend unconscious, in a cast-off car from the shop while Reggie and Nick pull the fire engine up and put out the propane flames burning, well beyond the car, in a barrel, and Laura and A and then Reggie stabilize Chu’s spine, place him on a board and carry him on the gurney to the ambulance.

Broken glass reflecting the warning lights from the top of the truck, the burning car reflected in Nick’s blue fireman glasses, Chu’s life at stake. Serious play, and all the while the boys from the auto shop stand, a line of blue collar heroes: young James Deans, keeping up a patter.

Can we have a ride on the fire truck? Just a ride back on the truck to the shop? Can we? Yeah. He said yeah! He was being sarcastic. No he wasn’t. Yes he was. Really, it would be a dream come true. Eighty bucks says he’s not givin’ us a ride.

At least two of the mechanics have signed up for the military after graduation. After 9-11, everyone had flags and we were all listening to “I’m Proud to be an American” for months. If that song doesn’t make you wanna kick some ass, I don’t know what would.

For most of us, that kick ass feeling went away. The kids from high school who want to go into the Army? They’re about saving the country, about America. Firefighters are more about saving people one person at a time. Army people are more about killing people, I think, and firefighters and EMTs into saving them.

Fan mail from grade schoolers

Can we have a ride on the firetruck? Just a ride back on the truck to the shop? Can we?

Chu is safe. The fire’s turned out. The boys from the auto body shop get to take the ride.

Wayne Township Fire Department

In emergency or military training, the play gets progressively more real.

A rainy Saturday morning. The “rehab girl” fills the water jug for a group of cadet firefighters, high school students from Marion and surrounding counties, at the Wayne Township Fire Department’s training site. You may have seen it on your way to the airport: a large cement block, windowless tower, like something from a dreamscape or de’Chirico painting, with WTFD painted on the side in pink and green.

Inside the cement tower, there are, as you’d expect in a tower from your dreams, many false rooms. Each room has a similar décor. Soot on the walls, drains in the floor, glass-less windows. And inside each room, there are metal pipes in the shape of furniture, each pipe filled with the hiss of propane. There’s a room with an object built of pipes in the shape of a double bed, complete with headboard, so that, when lit, you see what seems to be a bed on fire. There’s a propane sofa, a propane kitchen sink, a propane industrial spill. When the fires are lit, the temperature in each room rises to 700 degrees or above. And that’s when the chief turns on the smoke machine.

For emergency workers and soldiers, training and then “scenarios” or games to test the training are the only way to prepare for the thing that can’t really be foreseen. The 15 or so 20-year-old boys (they were all boys to me) helped each other with their gear. The nylon covering every wisp of hair, the 20-pound helmets properly on each head, the suits with their fluorescent striping zipped and fastened, the masks flush against the faces, oxygen tanks working, batteries in the flashlights. The students buttoned one another up, checked each others’ gear, like parents fastening khaki snowsuits. Their faces covered, the Darth Vader sound of the oxygen, the way they move in their heavy moonsuits: You can see why a child would be frightened of this apparition appearing through the heat and smoke of their nightmares.

Nick Hensel (left) and Kisle Crouch extinguish a car fire.

When the smoke starts roiling out the glass-free windows, one team makes its first trip inside. They crawl up a ladder toward a second story door, the lead carrying the nozzle end of the hose, boys on the ground feeding the hose to those going inside. The hose is incredibly heavy, even when unfilled, and the suits are awkward, and they need help, this time, to get over the railing and onto the balcony.

Once on the balcony, one of the boys forgets to stamp his feet to see if the floor is solid. You’re dead, the chief yells, and the boy lies down.

The rest crawl through the door. When they’re inside, the fire hose becomes their only path out. If they feel a body lying on the floor (a mannequin, life size and weighted) they crawl behind the false sofa in the false room, pretend to check the body for injuries in the heat — neck or head? Weigh the risks of moving now against waiting to strap him to a board. It’s dark, 700 degrees, you’re sweating in the suit, and thirsty, and now this body, and you keep checking the floor for stability as propane flames shoot down from the ceiling and your comrades are dousing the flames that don’t, of course, go out, like one of those trick birthday candles. And they drag the body through the dark smoke — there’s no way to see at all now — where’s the hose? Panic! This man is dying. The hose, damnit! And they find it, finally, like a scuba diver connected to the only way up out of the dark.

Most of them made it through the exercise. Sometimes cadets suffer from panic. “My arm,” they’ll say, “My leg!’ — all feel numb. Sometimes they fall from heat exhaustion.

Like now. A boy comes out of the fire. He’s used up all his air. His face is blue and his airline beeping. His friends pull off the mask. They’re all sucking air today, Chief Cranfill says. It’s their first time. They go through air fast. You take your air in with you and when you run out, you have to leave.

The boy bends over. His face is red. The rehab girl, an EMT, also a student, is suddenly a real EMT. She checks the pulse, blood pressure, puts ice packs at the groin, a cup of water and calms the boy. All the while the real medics watch over both of them. The angel from the fire in the classroom. Real firefighters call a real ambulance. A friend of the boy with heat exhaustion says he doesn’t care if he flunks the course; his responsibility is to his friend. When the ambulance comes, he’ll take off all his gear and go with him.

The house is burning down and all of it feels real.

What does it mean to be a real hero? To save lives without any recognition. You won’t get the firefighters to say much. Do you ever see them interviewed on TV? Firemen and EMTs avoid recognition. It’s part of the code. That’s why I’m the one who has to tell you how they feel. I’m in the EMT class, so I can tell you.

I’ve been out on emergency runs. When the bell rings at the fire station, it’s an adrenaline rush. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You know there’s someone waiting on you, though. You’re rushing to get there. You don’t know how you’re going to help yet, but you always feel like you’re rushing to save someone’s life. It’s pure adrenaline.

If something like 9-11 happened? There’s no way you could stop the guys in this class from being there. If there were an attack — Nick, Reggie, Kisle — the kids in this class, they’d all be there in two seconds. That’s why we’re here now.

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