EMS Explorer Programs in Texas
A growing number of Texas EMS agencies are creating EMS explorer programs to encourage young people to explore programs in EMS.
TEMSA held a session on the topic of EMS recruitment and retention at EMS EVOLUTION 2019. TEMSA recently followed up on that session with a Q&A with representatives from different EMS agencies in Texas to learn more about their EMS explorer programs.
TEMSA: Why did your organization get involved with the Explorer program, and when did it first get involved?
Matt Zavadsky (MedStar Mobile Healthcare): MedStar had an Explorer program years ago, and rekindled it two years ago. We did it for two main reasons. First, it is a great way to introduce EMS to youth as a career path to assure a willing workforce of the future – if they like the EMS Explorer program, it may lead to a career in EMS. Second, it facilitates the involvement of our field and supervisory team members to build leadership and mentorship skills for the Explorers, which often helps position the leaders of the Explorer program to advance their careers.
Amanda Baker (Austin-Travis County EMS): Austin Travis County EMS Explorer Post 247 was founded in 2010. The program was brought into existence by a group of paramedics interested in youth outreach and a very eager group of youth who were looking for an Explorer program that would give them insight into the medical field. The post started as a small group of about five youth. Since that time, we have grown to a program with a roster of 40 youth and a large group of dedicated Paramedic Advisors who continue to push the program forward.
Christopher Nix (Acadian): Our founder/CEO, Richard Zuschlag, before starting Acadian Ambulance changed career paths from electrical engineer to social worker. Working for Westinghouse he chose to take an assignment in Lafayette, Louisiana, to help disadvantaged young people who had not graduated high school. He fell in love with the area and has always held a special place for youth in his heart. After a year in that assignment, he quit and started Acadian Ambulance with $2,500, and two ambulances.
TEMSA: What part of the Explorer program seems to generate the greatest interest in the participants?
Christopher Nix (Acadian): The greatest interested that we have seen has been the ability to interact with explorers who go to different schools. Especially here in the Houston region where we have multiple independent school districts we serve. There is not a requirement that you attend a certain school. So we have explorers from all different backgrounds and areas throughout Houston. What we have seen is that the explorer also gets involved in other activities (sports, band, clubs, etc) and are unable to commit to both.
Matt Zavadsky (MedStar Mobile Healthcare): We found that the Explorers really liked the initial training in things like CPR and First Aid. They also enjoyed participating in the events we include them in. For example, we took them to the Texas EMS Conference to be part of our booth, and see all the things in the exhibit hall. Future plans for the Explorers include participation at special event standbys and community events. There are EMS systems that make extensive use of Explorers as front line EMS providers. Post 53 in Darien, Connecticut IS the EMS provider for the town. It’s totally run by the Explorers – they even bring the ambulance to the high school and respond to 9-1-1 calls from the school. Another example is Ellington Ambulance in Connecticut where EMTs from Explorer Post 512 function as a direct part of the ambulance crew.
Amanda Baker (Austin-Travis County EMS): Our post accepts youth aged 14 to 20 with an interest in EMS and medicine as career choices. The Explorer Post allows these youth to attend weekly meetings where we do classroom training, scenario training, and skills training and also allows them to schedule ride outs with Austin Travis County EMS Ambulances. In addition to this, the youth are given the opportunity to obtain community service volunteer hours with the Explorer Post at many events, parades, classes and public gatherings around Austin and Travis County. We also do annual summer and winter camp sessions where the youth get to experience hands-on training that is not normally available at meetings such as rappelling with the EMS Rescue team, attending drills with the EMS SWAT Medics, learning swift water rescue techniques, touring EMS air medical services and many other things. Our biggest draw to the program is our ride-along program and our camp sessions. The youth enjoy the hands-on training and real-world experience these opportunities provide. Our least popular activity with the youth is our classroom training sessions. Because of this, we often mix in hands-on skills sessions with the classroom lecture and use it as an opportunity to put relevant skills with the knowledge and classes.
TEMSA: What types of tangible results have you seen from the Explorer program?
Amanda Baker (Austin-Travis County EMS): Austin Travis County EMS currently has six previous Explorers employed with our department as medics. One works in our dispatch center as a communications medic, two are field clinical specialists, two are field medics, and one is a medic with our community health paramedic team. The medic with our community health team also works as one of the lead associate advisors for our Explorer Post, which gives our advisor team valuable insight into better managing our program and helping our youth. Our Explorer Post has also received two proclamations from the Austin City Council for our work with the youth and our community outreach and community service.
Matt Zavadsky (MedStar Mobile Healthcare): Our current program is a little too new to have any real outcome data, but the advisors report that the kids really learned a lot about EMS and life in general, through the advisors.
Christopher Nix (Acadian): I couldn’t tell you the number of explorers that we have currently working for us throughout our service areas. In the video on our website, I know the guy who is shown as a flight medic started as an explorer. Here in Houston, our explorer program has been in existence for about three years and we have about five explorers who work for us.
TEMSA: Going beyond the Explorer program, what types of outreach do you do or have you witnessed to get people in the community interested in becoming a paramedic or working in EMS?
Christopher Nix (Acadian): Acadian also has a High School Outreach coordinator who works with schools building EMT programs in schools, we lobby to get EMT credentials to be recognized by school districts, work on funding to get EMT classes and career technology-focused schools.
We also provide skills labs for colleges and attend career fairs with high schools/college, national nights out. Acadian also responds to natural disasters, not just with units, but with helping hands to care for those affected.
Matt Zavadsky (MedStar Mobile Healthcare): We allow any member of the community ride along with our field supervisors to learn about how their local EMS system works. We also do a MedStar Citizen’s Academy, which is a seven-week program designed to provide a deep dive into how their EMS system works. Classes include system overviews, dispatch, hands-only CPR and first aid, dispatch, billing, finance and all other processes that work together to meet the needs of the community. Last summer we had over 70 applicants for the program (we accommodate up to 22 per session). Participants do full shift ride outs with field staff and full shift “plug-ins” with our 9-1-1 call takers.
Amanda Baker (Austin-Travis County EMS): Austin Travis County EMS has a very robust community relations and outreach team. The department does child safety classes, provides car seats to families in need, teaches community CPR and Stop the Bleed and has senior safety programs. The Explorers are afforded the opportunity to work with our department in all of these programs. This gives our Explorers opportunities to connect with the public and gain volunteer hours and also serves as a chance for the public to see our program. Often we get several new youth express interest in our Explorer Post when they see us out at these events.
TEMSA: When it comes to creating our next generation of EMS leaders, what advice do you have for other EMS agencies that are thinking about the Explorer program and other initiatives?
Matt Zavadsky (MedStar Mobile Healthcare): Say yes to all opportunities to do career days, EMS demos and other community events. The more chances you get to interact with your youth, the greater the opportunity that someone may decide to make EMS a career.
Amanda Baker (Austin-Travis County EMS): For other departments considering creating an Explorer Post, I would say do it! Prepare for a lot of work in the beginning but know that it will be very rewarding in the long run. The best method we have seen to create future leaders in EMS is to make them leaders as a youth. Our program is officer led. Our Explorer Post youth officers handle most of the day to day business, recruiting, fundraising and even take the initiative to teach the newer and less experienced Explorers. This gives them valuable leadership experience for their future and also gives them the chance to learn to lead in a safe environment.
Another successful technique we have used is that each youth officer has a paramedic advisor in a position that mirrors theirs. This gives each of them a mentor to reach out to in order to learn how to lead and perform their assignments more effectively without overwhelming one adult advisor by having all the officers come to them. However, you choose to build or structure your program though, I absolutely encourage you to go forward with it. There are plenty of resources out there to help you, and seeing the Explorers in your program to become successful adults is a greatly rewarding experience. Even those who do not go on to EMS still reach out to me years later and tell me that it was one of the most valuable programs they experienced as a teen.
Steven Harvey (Acadian): I would highly recommend an agency start an Explorer program as it allows the kids to get involved at an earlier age. This allows them to have exposure to what EMS really is and helps cut down on hiring somebody who quickly quits because the job isn’t what they really expected. It allows us to groom them at a younger age and help instill a better work ethic as they can learn what is expected of them sooner than later. This program allows you to build a relationship with your community through its youth, which creates bonds that often last a lifetime. People remember the experiences they have as kids and the leg-up that a program like this can give somebody. That passion often translates into kids who become employees that want to help with an Explorer program because of the impact it had on them.
Thanks to MedStar Mobile Healthcare for the photos from both its EMS Explorer Program and Citizen’s Academy.