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Scenario Fridays provide real-life training for Howard Fire and Rescue

Christian Nicholson of Columbia gave up a job as personal banker for his true calling, being dispatched via ambulance to help victims requiring immediate, sometimes life-saving attention.

Meg Simmers of Baltimore felt a similar tug, leaving an air-quality management job.

The two are members of the Howard County Fire and Rescue Services' 28th academy class, and on a recent Friday, they and about three dozen classmates took part in emergency training that included assisting a mock victim who had suffered a fall from an exercise machine at a gym.

It was a fairly tame drill. Often, the scenarios tackled by the cadets are more intense, involving exposure to burns, hazardous materials and firefighting.

The series of mock incidents, called Scenario Fridays, are part of Fire and Rescue Service's seven-month program, giving students opportunities to put their book learning to use. Staged at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville, the scenarios are designed to be as realistic as possible, using live patients, emergency medical dispatchers and mock emergency rooms.

"It's been very fulfilling, going from a desk job to something where you're out in the field, getting something different every day. It's just a big change, but it keeps you on your toes," said Nicholson, 28. "You're always seeing something new, and I absolutely love that about this job."

Tony Concha, a paramedic captain in charge of EMS training and captain of the 28th Academy, said the department has been conducting Scenario Fridays for about eight years to place more practical training into the curriculum.

"We wanted to stimulate the type of learner that learns by doing, not just by reading a book," Concha said. "You can say that you know how to talk on the radio, but when you do it, it's a lot different."

Simmers, 33, said that after a few Scenario Fridays, she found the dramatizations less nerve-racking.

"When I first walked in here, I was a gigantic bundle of nerves," she said. "It's been lots of training, lots of work to be able to have that ease to walk in and look at somebody and say, 'OK, take a big, deep breath" and get to work.

During a recent mock ambulance run, Simmers said, she had to work on her "radio voice," relaying information to dispatchers.

"My voice, naturally, is rather high," Simmers said. "So we discovered when they had me on the radio that I have to consciously speak lower. Otherwise, I sound like a screeching tea kettle."

Training for the 28th academy class began in late January; students are scheduled to graduate in early August.

For more information on the next Howard County Fire and Rescue Services academy class, go to howardcountymd.gov/departments.aspx?ID=259 and click on "Recruitment."

jburris@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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