Pima Community College students in a basic EMT course perform a sheet drag to move a "patient" onto a gurney. PCC's new training facility lets students practice other scenarios and work in confined spaces.


Emergency medical techs strap a patient to a stretcher and carefully navigate a cramped apartment to load their patient into a waiting ambulance.

It happens countless times every day. But in this case, it's a typical practice day at Pima Community College's new emergency medical technician (EMT) training facility, which features a mock apartment to give students a better understanding of how to handle actual emergencies in the field.

The apartment, which cost about $350,000, has seven training rooms including a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. The rooms are furnished, forcing students to maneuver through tight spaces and obstacles while attending to a patient.

"It's the only way to learn," said EMT student Ryan Szach, 25. "Without hands-on application, you'll never get the experience."

The program is almost at capacity, and many students hope to land EMT jobs after they graduate.

Employment for EMTs and paramedics is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students in the EMT program, part of Pima's Public Safety and Emergency Services Institute, can earn a "certificate for direct employment," which qualifies them to be hired immediately.

Pima also offers an associate of applied-science degree in emergency medical technology, and students working toward firefighting and paramedic degrees start in the basic EMT class.

With an aging U.S. population, the Bureau of Labor Statistics believes demand for EMTs and paramedics will rise and employment is expected to grow 9 percent over 10 years.

However, about half the students hope to go into a field other than EMT or paramedics.

Joann Vanvoorhis, 32, graduated from the course a year and a half ago and went into the fire academy. But she has not been able to get a job yet.

"I've been helping out here at the class to keep my skills up," Vanvoorhis said.

While employment for firefighters is expected to increase by 19 percent in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, applicants will face steeper competition than other occupations, the bureau said.

The Pima program has trained notable local first responders such as Tucson Fire Department Chief Jim Critchley and TFD firefighter Tyler Menke, 2011 United Fire Equipment Co. Firefighter of the Year.

Wright Randolph, a Pima EMT instructor, said whatever the reason students take the class, they'll leave ready for the workforce.

One of the ways he prepares them is with surprise drills.

Sometimes when students are in a lecture, a teacher's assistant will run into the classroom, announcing, "I'm injured, save me!" and fall to the ground. Students must immediately take action.

"We can set off a call any time and they have to be ready," Randolph said. "You can't prepare for a call, they just happen."

The new facility also has hidden distractions.

When responding to a slip-and-fall call for someone in a bathtub, a group of toy puppies may come to life.

"What do you do when you're trying to lift a person and there's animals in the house?" Randolph said. "Who takes care of the dogs? Do you call Animal Control? These are the situations you'll find yourself in."

MORE INFOrmation

Pima Community College's EMT classes are held every day of the week except Sunday, at the new training center in Building E4 of Pima's East Campus, 8181 E. Irvington Road. The school enrolls 120 EMT students each fall and spring, and 72 each summer. Call 206-6350 or go to www.pima.edu/program/emt/ for more information.

Michelle A. Monroe is a University of Arizona journalism student and a NASA Space Grant intern. Contact her at mmonroe@azstarnet.com