When Ulicer Sanchez used to see an ambulance shriek down the street, the 23-year-old said, he would think, “Oh, man, there they go again.”
But Tuesday morning, sporting his blue uniform and new badge after being promoted as one of the St. Paul Fire Department’s first Emergency Medical Services (EMS) cadets, Sanchez admitted his newfound passion to work as an emergency responder.
“You see a lot of people when they are at their lowest point,” he said. “You connect with these people.”
The Fire Department celebrated the promotion of 16 emergency medical technicians (EMTs), including Sanchez, who have graduated from the city’s EMS Academy, designed to recruit and train low-income young adults from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The day also marked the anniversary of the program’s Basic Life Support (BLS) transport unit that is staffed by graduates of the academy. The academy started in 2009 as a collaboration between the Fire Department, Inver Hills Community College, Regions Hospital and other partners.
As part of the program, pre-EMS classes or adult basic education courses are available to prepare students in a college EMT course.
The EMT class is an intensive 10-14 week program that helps students learn skills to obtain a National Registry EMT certification. Tuition is free, and participants are paid hourly as part of St. Paul’s Youth Job Corps program.
The BLS unit is a nonemergency ambulance service that was created for EMT graduates of the academy.
In its first year of service, the unit went out on more than 1,100 calls, earning more than $300,000, which was reinvested into the program.
One of the program’s major goals is to help diversify the pool of certified EMTs. Ambulance service leaders say less than 2 percent of the workforce is non-Caucasian.
“This is a powerful recruitment tool,” St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said.
Of those that were promoted this week, half are fluent in more than one language.
“You’re special. You’re unique. And you’ll continue to be those pioneers,” Fire Chief Tim Butler told the EMTs during the ceremony.
Ariane Abrams, 25, who was able to get a job at Allina Health, where she recently was promoted to a critical-care EMT, said she plans to continue her pursuit of becoming a St. Paul paramedic/firefighter.
“This program has given me a chance,” she said.