North Riverside Fire Chief Bob McDermott says partnering with community colleges to help train their EMT and paramedic students can also serve as a way of recruiting new employees. | FILE

North Riverside trustees are poised to approve agreements with Triton College and Morton College that would permit students in their emergency medical technician and paramedic programs to do clinical training alongside on-duty North Riverside firefighters/paramedics.

On Aug. 14, trustees agreed that they’d vote to approve the agreements in September after hearing a presentation about the program from Fire Chief Bob McDermott at a meeting of the village board’s public safety committee.

“I’ve always liked the idea of getting students,” McDermott said. “We were all students at one point, and this is a good chance for us to mentor some of these new EMT and paramedic students.”

That’s not the only reason for partnering with the community colleges, according to McDermott. It’s also a way to attract new recruits.

In late 2022, North Riverside jettisoned its longtime private paramedic service provider, opting to bring those services in house. As a result of the change, the village has sought to hire new firefighter/paramedics and will continue to have a need for them in the future.

“There is a shortage of paramedics and EMTs out there,” McDermott said. “If we can see them as students and help guide them through paramedic school … the idea [is] that maybe we get them at some point to take our test. There’s a lot of competition out there.

“Any chance we have to get students, I’d like to take advantage of that.”

McDermott said that both schools have programs that require students to participate in a field internship with a partner fire department. Triton has had similar agreements with a handful of area fire departments for years, while Morton’s EMT/paramedic program is new this fall.

EMT students are required to complete 24 hours of “ride time” in the field, said McDermott.

“They take what they learn in the classroom and then get an opportunity to observe it in the field with paramedics,” he said. 

The EMT students do not perform any invasive or advanced care as interns. They are mainly there to observe, although they could be tasked with taking vital signs or temperatures. 

“A lot of these kids really don’t have a foundation for what the EMT role is, so we would have them for probably two shift days and part of that day would just be spent observing,” McDermott said.

EMT students would never be alone with a patient and always under the supervision of a firefighter/paramedic.

Students in the more advanced paramedic classes at Morton College have to complete 240 hours of field training, which may see them alongside firefighter/paramedics in North Riverside for a 12- or 24-hour shift.

Having the paramedic students experience a longer shift will also provide a glimpse into the lives they’d be leading as professionals, said McDermott, adding that a firefighter candidate whose internship got cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic ended up leaving because he didn’t like working 24-hour shifts.

“Had he seen that during his internship, he would have decided to never come to the firehouse,” McDermott said.

Unlike EMT students, paramedic students may perform more advanced care under the supervision of the village’s firefighter/paramedics.

“They’d be doing some invasive skills, like starting IVs, doing intubation, administer medications,” McDermott said. “But we have them for 240 hours. That’s not what they’d be doing on day one. 

According to McDermott, the colleges bear the burden of liability for their students, and partnering with the colleges comes at no cost to the village.