LINCOLN -- Lincoln High School is one of only 10 schools in the state and the only one in Washington County to pilot a new program this year to give students the opportunity to be certified in emergency skills and to establish a school-based emergency response team.
Laurie Smith is director of the high school's Emergency Service Professionals Academy and the classes in the academy are for students interested into going into careers such as firefighting, law enforcement and the medical field.
The academy is "meant to replenish a field out there that is losing employees so we don't have a critical shortage in those areas," Smith said.
"It is designed to take kids who are focused in wanting to work in a hospital, or on an ambulance, be an officer or firefighter and work with those kids to help them decide what way they want to go and then give them the certifications so they can accomplish that."
She said any students who go through the academy will walk out of the program knowing where they are headed and what's the next step.
To get the program off the ground this year, most of the students in ninth and tenth grades were enrolled to get their certification in the first level, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). About 16 older students were allowed to skip CERT and study to become certified as an Emergency Management Responder or EMR.
"We didn't want them to leave with nothing," Smith said. "So we kinda threw them into EMR. Everyone we put through passed the course and was successful. Some did struggle a bit."
Smith said students who start in the academy in ninth grade will have the opportunity to be certified in CERT, EMR and then as an emergency medical technician, or EMT, by the time they graduate.
Students who are 18 years old and have their EMR certification can apply as a firefighter, to work in the county jail or to work for Central EMS in Fayetteville. Applicants have to be 21 years old to apply for a job in law enforcement.
Lincoln now has 40 students who are certified in CERT and another 16 students certified as an EMR. Along with receiving certifications, students also are able to earn college credit through Northwest Arkansas Community College.
From this first group of students, Smith will establish a student Community Emergency Response Team to assist the high school in any emergency situations.
The goal, said Amber Fortin with Washington County Department of Emergency Management, is that eventually all high schools will have their own student certified emergency teams.
With Smith's classes, Lincoln seemed to be the "best fit" to be one of the pilot programs to certify students in CERT and to establish a student emergency team for the school, Fortin said.
The academy's first semester ended with students demonstrating their skills to get checked off by emergency service professionals in Washington County. Smith said her students already had practiced the skills before, but a mock disaster drill was set up on Dec. 15, 2022, to give her students the opportunity to work with professionals who then could talk about actually using the techniques in the field.
Some of the skills students had to demonstrate at the stations included how to assess airway, breathing and circulation, performing a head to toe assessment, how to treat heat related injuries and chemical burns, the proper application of a tourniquet, participating in a debris removal technique, using a blanket to carry a patient and the use of a fire extinguisher.
Two seniors, who achieved EMR certification this semester, said they appreciate the opportunities Lincoln is giving them.
Macie Rodgers plans to get her EMT certification and further her education to become a paramedic.
"This seemed like a good opportunity to get ahead of the game," said Rodgers as she helped with the mock drill stations. "I don't have to start at the basics at NWACC and it knocks off a year of college for me."
Senior Sarah Remington plans to go into the nursing program at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and then continue her education to become a nurse practitioner.
"This is a good opportunity for all students," Remington said.
Smith has a personal interest in seeing her students succeed and possibly consider a career in the emergency services field because that is her background. Prior to teaching, she worked as assistant fire marshal with Washington County Fire Marshal's office and also worked for Central EMS.
She then moved into education with a fire science degree, teaching health classes at Farmington for eight years before moving to Lincoln High School for the 2022-23 school year.
"I've been around all of this stuff my entire life," Smith said, adding she started in fire service when she was 19, volunteered with Lincoln Fire Department and has participated in many fire investigations.
Emergency service agencies and other organizations that helped with the mock drills in December included Prairie Grove and Lincoln fire departments, Lincoln police, the community college, coroner's office, sheriff's office, AirEvac, Leming and Son and Washington Regional Medical Center.