Public Schools Program Helping Students Prepare For Emergency Response Careers

Sep 15, 2016

Grace Woolard, 17, of Lincoln Place, sits near the CPR practice mat at Westinghouse Academy. Woolard is a junior at Allderdice High School. She buses to the school every day for the Emergency Response Technology course.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools students are getting hands-on education for careers in emergency medical services, firefighting and the police force this year.

Students from across the district can take the course at Westinghouse Academy in Homewood. Fifteen are enrolled this year. City and school officials said the hands-on training will help prepare a new class of workers and could help to diversify the city’s police force and fire departments.

Instructor Matthew Patrick said over the course of three years, students will learn the basics of the jobs which could give them a leg up over other candidates applying to police and fire academies.

“It at least gives them an understanding of the work ethic in that area and basic fundamentals so that when they get to the police academy or the fire academy, the instructors there know this kid came out of ERT at Westinghouse, he or she knows what is going on,” Patrick said.

Junior Cameron Martin, 17, of Wilkinsburg, said he wants to be an officer because he’s concerned about recent killings of black people by white officers.

“Even if they’re accidentally killing them, even if it’s on purpose or accidental, it shouldn’t mean black people shouldn’t try and join the police force,” he said. “If they want to stop them from using more violence, you could join the police force and make a difference from within.”

Sophomore Safon Gump, 15, of Highland Park, said being a police officer isn’t a popular choice among his friends.

“Some people, they’re worried about like your friends saying, ‘Oh, you’re a cop, you must be a snitch,’ or whatever,” he said. “But to me, it’s a well-paying job and you get to help people. I’d rather help people than worry about my friends being worried about me being a snitch or not.”

Gump said he’s keeping his options open. He’s also interested in EMS or firefighting. School administrators said that’s what they want, to give students an option other than going straight to college.

The students train daily with a fire truck, ambulance and gear donated by the city.