Intensive course leads to intensive jobs for new graduates

New graduates of the Glendale Fire Department's Basic Life Support program await their diploma.

By Brandon HENSLEY

They were tested, poked and prodded, a 10-week course condensed into10 days giving them all they could handle. In the end, though, the hard work of 12 ambulance operators paid off this week as they officially became part of the Glendale Fire Department’s new Basic Life Support program.

Starting this week, four operators each day will take two ambulances and transport patients with minor injuries to local hospitals. This will allow paramedics to take on people who require more advanced care, such as heart-attack patients, officials said.

At the ceremony, held Tuesday at Station 21 in downtown Glendale, Battalion Chief Greg Godfrey called the names of each graduate and handed them their blue fire helmets that they will wear on the job. “We didn’t give it to them during the training phase,” Godfrey said. “We told them they had to earn it. And they earned it.”

Godfrey, who was put in charge of the program, said it was designed as a cost-saving measure “without compromising care to the community.”

Godfrey said the department has reduced paramedic ambulances from five to four, and also reduced other positions, but that adding the two new ambulances will help. “We’re reducing our paramedics staffing. But as far as ambulances for transports, we’re increasing,” he said.

Godfrey said the program will save the fire department $800,000 a year. Because right now each operator will be working 12-hour shifts, training for a second class will begin in two weeks, and when it ends, eight more operators will be added to the staff for support.

The operators will have a chance to work hand-in-hand with Glendale firefighters, which is something that graduate Sarah Cooper was looking forward to.

“We’re incredibly excited because working directly for the fire department and a city like Glendale is an incredible opportunity to gain a foundation for a career in the fire service,” Cooper said. “We’re basically setting an incredible foundation for ourselves by getting familiar with the city, doing hands-on treatments with the patients right beside the fire department so it’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Godfrey called the program a “stepping stone” to becoming a firefighter for any department.

The operators went through extensive training, Cooper said, from testing on spinal immobilization, to anatomy and physiology exams, to drivers training. They also had to take a polygraph test, and endured several intensive interviews from the department.

Everyone graduated was already a licensed emergency medical technician, so most of the training was familiar, but the operators still had to put in 12-hour days. It was worth it, said James Rohrig and Ara Zakarian. Both men had worked for private ambulance companies before, but said working for Glendale is where they want to be.

“When you’re working for a private ambulance company, you don’t have a chance to actually be working with the fire departments as closely as we do now, so this is a bigger and better stepping stone for both of our futures,” Zakarian said.

“We’re competing against thousands and thousands of people in Southern California for jobs in fire departments,” Rohrig said. “This is something that we’re able to do that will not only make us look better but will give us more experience so when we do get hired, we’re going to be that much more successful.”