Presque Isle – This May, for the first time in the College’s history, NMCC will graduate an all-women class of paramedics from the EMS associate degree program. Nationally, roughly 30% of paramedics are women, and current data shows that only 5% of career firefighters are women. In contrast, two of NMCC’s graduating women are already working as full-time firefighters.
Each member of the NMCC graduating class felt called to the profession for different reasons, although a desire to help the community spanned the entire group. Growing up in Caribou, Shelby Barnes visited her grandfather at the firehouse at Loring Airforce Base, where he worked as the fire chief throughout her childhood.
“Every kid likes to see the firetrucks,” Barnes explained, “but as a kid I liked that my Grampy was going out and he was going to save someone. When he laid his head on his pillow at night he had saved somebody’s life. For little five-year-old me, that idea was a dream, and I’ve had it for a long time.”
Now Barnes works full-time for the Fort Fairfield Fire Department. Her classmate Angela Fuller also works full-time nearby for Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department as the town’s first woman firefighter. Fuller started her career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but found the work redundant. “With EMS it’s ever-changing. You don’t know what you’re getting into every day and you’re out there on your own. You’ve got to use your head. You’ve got to use your skills. And the adrenaline rush… I got hooked as soon as I started,” Fuller said.
Graduating senior Tara Peterson currently works as a basic EMT for Northern Light Medical Transport. Earning her associate’s degree in paramedicine will allow her to respond to 911 dispatch calls, rather than only doing transportation between healthcare facilities. Similar to her classmates, Peterson chose this profession because she finds it rewarding, stating, “It’s nice to know that you’re able to help someone before they reach the hospital, and make sure they live.”
Classmate Amber Sandstrom has put herself through college by working locally as a CNA, but is excited to begin working in an emergency setting after graduation. Her goal is to work in an ambulance. Although she moved to The County six years ago from Massachusetts, she plans to build her career here.
In a statement earlier this year, announcing NMCC’s plans to build a new EMS simulation lab, College President Tim Crowley said, “Healthcare in rural areas of Maine is at a precipice. Due to limited resources, financial and human, many healthcare facilities find themselves having to make tough decisions regarding the types of services and care to be provided. Emergency care has already reached that level of concern.”
In a traditionally male-dominated field, attracting non-traditional applicants is critical in order to ensure the population has access to the emergency care they need. On February 1st, NMCC began a free 15-week Basic EMT course in Patten in an effort to train enough EMS providers to support the geographically isolated population. “Patten’s ambulance service is facing an EMS shortage that’s reaching a point that could compromise their ability to provide care,” NMCC EMS Department Chair Andrew Gagnon said. “Ambulance service is important for any area, but especially such a rural area.”
Next fall semester NMCC EMS students will have access to a new EMS Simulation Lab currently under construction. This space will allow year-round indoor training with the program’s new ambulance, which was purchased last year and funded by the NMCC Foundation. The new space will also contain areas for formal classroom presentations and a lab space equipped with advanced technology and interactive healthcare simulators. Audio-visual technology will allow instructors to view and record in all areas of the new space and observe scenarios remotely if necessary.
“We’re proud of this year’s graduates,” Gagnon said of the all-female class, scheduled to walk at commencement on May 14th. “Each of these students has shown the strength of character that’s important in this field. They’re driven, smart, courageous, and they want to give back to the community. That’s the most we could hope for from any EMS student or professional.”
To learn more about NMCC’s EMS program, which provides Basic EMT, Advanced EMT, and 2-year Paramedicine training, please visit nmcc.edu or call Admissions at (207) 768-2785.
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