For more than two decades, Ken Brown and Don Howell were firefighters and emergency medical technicians in the Howard County fire department. They finished their careers as head of emergency medical services training and chief of EMS operations, respectively.
The colleagues and friends retired from the department in the mid-1990s and continue holding on to “the good old days” through more than 40 years of teaching EMS training to prospective recruits.
Last month, Brown and Howell began their 15th year of teaching together at the Application and Research Lab’s EMT Academy. The one-year course is open to high school juniors and seniors, offering EMS training and continuing education opportunities.
Brown, 63, said he and Howell have taught EMS training side-by-side within the department since the early 1970s and continued after retirement in Carroll, Howard, Frederick, Washington, Hartford and Charles counties. In addition to their class at ARL, Brown is a senior consultant at Paramedical Training and Services, and Howell is the former executive director of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, known as ICISF.
“He’s an interesting guy, and it’s fun teaching with him,” said Brown, a Savage resident. “We’ve been doing this forever. I know what he’s going to do and think, and he knows what I’m going to do and think. It’s sort of seamless between the two of us.”
“We complement each other, and it’s certainly been a pleasure,” said Howell, 67, of Lisbon. “It’s been a ride and been fun.”
Howard County Fire Chief John Butler said he trained under Brown and Howell after joining the department in 1993. Butler said the class teaches about 30 to 40 EMTs and paramedics every year, some hired by the fire department.
“I had come out of the military [and] I didn’t know the difference between an ambulance and a fire engine,” Butler said. “Everything I learned about how to perform as a professional in this profession, I emulated them.”
Howard County public school students interested in health care professions can take allied health care classes in their junior year. They learn about basic medical skills, medical equipment use, and patient contact and communication. Students can then pursue paths in clinical research, certified nursing or emergency medical care and earn college credit.
The fire department will pay for EMT Academy graduates to attend Howard Community College, where they can earn a two-year associate’s degree in paramedicine, Brown said.
Before the EMT Academy program begins, Howell said, they prepare incoming students and their parents with a six-hour job, reality and critical stress management session to learn what to expect in the field. Hearing questions like, “Have you ever been there when someone died?” or, “Have you ever done CPR on a child?” often raises eyebrows, he said.
Brown said he’s always surprised to learn how many 17-year-olds have never been to a funeral home or seen a dead person.
“We tell them those are the kinds of things they will potentially see,” Brown said. “We do our best to get them and their families into the frame of mind that they are going to see things that they never thought they’d see in their lifetime.”
Although potential recruits join EMS for good reasons, Howell said they’re encompassed by false expectations, like “saving babies from burning buildings” or “helping mothers in distress” and receiving tons of praise.
“That rarely, if ever, happens,” he said. “There are calls that you run where you don’t have a happy ending. That can take a toll physically and emotionally.”
Howell said ICISF provides psychological and emotional support and stress management to health care providers before, during and after responding to calls. First responders may experience traumatic situations while serving communities, he said, such as those devastated by hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
At the EMT Academy, Brown and Howell maintain a sense of urgency in the classroom to keep students aware of their surroundings at all times. The classroom is divided into two areas for lectures and hands-on training.
This year’s class features 22 students between ages 16 and 18 and rotates between 70-minute and 2-hour 45-minute classes every weekday. Brown, the lecturer, said he selects students for the academy after they’ve taken the required prerequisites and complete the interview process, including basic math and writing tests.
Students will attain specific skills, but Brown said the teachers also instill time management, responsibility, accountability, and respectfulness. Brown and Howell follow a “military boot camp” template and have students wear their uniforms every Wednesday.
“If you come into the classroom and the students are already here, they’ll all stand up immediately, announce that there’s a guest in the room and until you tell them to sit down, they’re going to stand,” Brown said. “If they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, we call them down on the carpet and deal with them as necessary. After they realize we’re disciplinarians but we’re doing it for their own good, then they’re good to go.”
On a Friday afternoon, students practiced patient assessments in groups of three, as former academy students acted as patients in distress. Near the front of the classroom, students Emily Considine, Hareem Syeda and Madison Eaton, all 17, stood over academy graduate Ben Kitt, 21, who pretended to wheeze.
“Do you have any allergies?” asked Considine, a Glenelg High student.
“Only penicillin,” Kitt replied.
Considine said the class is “very different” from those at Glenelg High. Syeda, a Howard High student, and Eaton, an Atholton High student, agreed.
“It’s more career-focused,” Syeda said.
“I like all the hands-on stuff. You get into clinical work,” Eaton added.
Brown watched the group continue patient assessments, reminding Considine to leave the blood pressure gauge cuffed to the patient throughout their assessment.
Brown and Howell said students are taught to treat every patient as a “family member.”
As with most occupations, Howell said protocols change annually in EMS, so they keep their class up to date. This includes technology in classroom instruction, he said, which was limited to chalkboards in their early teaching days.
“We’re currently having our students do more reading online and taking online quizzes,” Howell said. “That gives us much more time to spend with students to perfect their skills.”
Karl Schindler, principal of ARL, said Brown and Howell bring “expertise, experience and knowledge” to the classroom and are committed to helping each student reach their potential.
“EMT students have a tremendous success rate passing their National Certifications and maturing into fine, dedicated men and women who eventually will serve their communities,” Schindler said. “I am very proud of the EMT Academy Program.”
Butler said Brown and Howell balance their militaristic teaching style with mentorship and guide students who “might not have hard-line father figures.”
“These two gentlemen have been teaching that program and their students have gone on to become doctors, nurses and military officers,” Butler said. “When many others could have retired and gone on and done other things, they continue to pay it forward.”