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Tyonia Mclean, 19, began training in high school to be an EMT in the Baltimore Fire Department.
Tyonia Mclean, 19, began training in high school to be an EMT in the Baltimore Fire Department. (Jesse Coburn / Baltimore Sun)

A few weeks ago, 19-year-old Tyonia Mclean helped save her first life.

It was around midday, Mclean said, and she and a team of first responders were in the bedroom of an East Baltimore rowhouse administering CPR to a man in cardiac arrest.

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As his pulse returned, Mclean said, she remembered why she was training to become an emergency medical technician in the Baltimore Fire Department.

"To watch somebody come back to life," Mclean said, "I just realized, like, this is really the reason why I'm here."

Mclean is a trainee in a program initiated by the Fire Department to prepare local high school students for careers in firefighting and emergency response.

The program, which began in 2014, offers EMT certification training to students at Frederick Douglass High School and Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, said Samuel Johnson, a Fire Department spokesman. This fall, the program will expand to Paul Laurence Dunbar and Patterson high schools.

After participants receive their certification and graduate from high school, Johnson said, the department hires them as EMT trainees and pays them to spend a year taking classes at the fire academy in Northeast Baltimore and accompanying firefighters and medics on the job.

Mclean and three others are the first through the program. They plan to complete it this fall and will then be promoted to the rank of EMT-firefighter.

Mclean was drawn to the program, she said, by a lifelong ambition to help those in need and by a desire to challenge gender stereotypes.

"When you're younger, they teach you 'fireman,' they don't ever teach you 'firewoman,'" Mclean said. "I want to prove that women can be strong enough to be on a firetruck."

LaCoya Mitz, a fire operations aide in the department, was one of Mclean's EMT instructors.

"We had our challenges, especially in the beginning," Mitz said of the courses. "We did lose quite a few kids. But the ones that stuck around, they did a great job.

"I think it's empowering for students to learn EMT," she said.

Dr. Richard Alcorta, the state medical director at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, praised the program and others like it in the state.

"It gives [young people] a career path and an exposure into an entirely different world that makes them more responsible members of society," he said.

The Fire Department struggles to recruit employees from Baltimore, Johnson said.

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"A lot of people are not really familiar with the profession of the EMS," he said, "so it's not really something that the average city resident tends to consider as a career path."

That was the case for Mclean.

"I wanted to be a pediatrician; I didn't want to be a firefighter," she said.

But Mclean said she's thrilled to be in the Fire Department and hopes one day to become a battalion chief.

Mclean, who grew up in Northwest Baltimore, said it is especially fulfilling to serve the city she's from.

"I want to stay in the community and help out," Mclean said. "You would want to know somebody that's coming into your house to help you."

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