Ride-Alongs Return to EMT Course after Pandemic Paused Hands-On Learning

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
December 16, 2021

It’s a scene no one ever wants to see: a person injured and in shock after a car crash. A group of first responders in bright reflective vests work quickly, but carefully, to move the patient onto a stretcher, keeping their head and spine as still as possible. One first responder holds the patient’s head steady, while another straps on an oxygen mask. Moments later, the patient is out of the car and strapped onto the board, ready to be loaded into an ambulance. 

Thankfully, this scene playing out in the Falls Church High School parking lot isn’t real, it’s just practice. The ‘first responders’ are actually students taking the Emergency Medical Technician course at Falls Church High School Governor’s Health Sciences Academy. This lesson on extracting patients from a car is helping them prepare for ride-alongs with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, where they’ll get hands-on practice with real emergency situations and real patients. The ride-alongs have been paused since March 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions; but now, fully vaccinated students can once again learn alongside professional first responders. 

“They take in these 16 and 17-year-old students and put them in the back of the ambulance with them,” said instructor Penny Kelly. “The students actually do all the patient care while being observed by the paramedics. They go above and beyond for the students.”

EMT students at Falls Church practice their skills.

Kelly says this hands-on learning is an essential tool for these students, many of whom hope to pursue a career in fire and rescue or medicine. Kelly herself spent decades as a nurse, a firefighter, and a medic before launching the EMT program at FCPS 18 years ago. Her expertise and lessons in the classroom (or parking lot) ensure the students are fully prepared for whatever they may encounter in the real world.  

The dedicated group of students give up their time during the weekends to take part in the ride-alongs, but many say it’s a valuable experience they’re thankful for. 

“The hands-on learning is really fun because we’re getting to understand everything in depth,” said Marshall High School sophomore Natalia Teran Reyes . “When learning online you can’t really touch anything. So this is way better.”

“I really like hands-on activities like taking people’s vitals and learning patient care,” said Mclean High School senior Aziza Abdelatey. “It really helps you understand what you need to do when you’re in the field. Practicing on other students also helps us prepare even more for the ride-alongs.”

EMT students at Falls Church practice their skills.

At the end of the year-long program, students have the opportunity to earn six certifications including EMT and CPR. In addition to working with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, students also have clinical lab opportunities at Northern Virginia Community College and can gain seven college credits through the course. But Kelly says at the end of her class, she hopes students take away more than just skills and certifications. 

“I hope that they have learned to be kind, and that they’ve learned to be good human beings,” Kelly shared. “That’s my biggest goal.”

Students who wish to take the EMT course must be 16 years or older. More information about the program is available on the Falls Church Academy website and the West Potomac Academy website. You can also learn more by watching the video below.