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Young Maryland EMT describes his passion for saving lives

Jonah Kearns is a young man at 20-years-old, but his job has allowed him to see and do things that most people won't experience in an entire lifetime.

Jonah Kearns is a young man at 20-years-old, but his job has allowed him to see and do things that most people won’t experience in an entire lifetime.

Kearns saves lives as an emergency medical technician with the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, Maryland.

He works every Monday night throughout the overnight hours, and once a month he has a 24-hour shift that starts Saturday at noon.

“It’s a really exciting job, getting to go out there in the field and help people directly,” Kearns said. “We get to make a huge impact and it’s a rewarding feeling.”

The Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad is a corps of volunteers who provide ambulance, paramedic and fire and rescue service to Wheaton and the surrounding community.

It typically responds to more than 10,000 emergency 911 calls every year, utilizing highly-trained personnel who volunteer their time to serve.

The agency relies on donations to support volunteer training, equipment, station upgrades and new emergency vehicles.

Although people sometimes use “EMT” and “paramedic” interchangeably when they talk about first responders, they are not the same thing.

“Paramedics have more training and more medications they can administer,” Kearns explained. “They do a lot more with airways, including intubation, and they have a cardiac monitor with them.”

Kearns said when he gets to a scene, he personally needs to make contact with the patient.

He figures out what equipment and resources he’ll need and then he puts a plan into action, getting the patient into an ambulance if necessary and working to keep them stable on their way to a hospital.

The road to becoming an EMT

Kearns is the only first responder in his family, although his mother worked in the medical field and his older sister is preparing to enter medical school.

“When I turned 16-years-old, I was looking for places nearby where I could volunteer my time,” Kearns said.

Originally, working in the fire and rescue field wasn’t something he was necessarily interested in, but he signed up for a “ride along,” and that changed everything.

“You get to hop into an ambulance and ride in the back with the EMTs and see what it’s like,” Kearns said. “It was great, and I loved it.”

The journey that led to Kearns ultimately becoming an EMT himself was long and filled with exhaustive training.

First, he had to enter an application process, going through basic skills that are performed during emergency calls.

“They teach you how to take vital signs and do some relatively basic assessments,” Kearns said. “You learn how to do CPR and you use some bleeding control equipment.”

He was able to ride in the ambulance routinely and observe as a trainee, or what they call a “co-pilot.”

Kearns then had to enroll in an EMT class and take a formal exam.

“After all of that, you’ve got more in-station training to do,” Kearns said. “They have drills and scenarios that they run through with you.”

The trainers make the drills as realistic as possible, setting up mannequins and trying to mimic what a real call is like.

But no matter how much training someone goes through, it won’t be the same as what they’ll experience once they are actually on the job.

“There have been a handful of times where I’ve shown up on a call expecting one thing or being told one thing and it’s completely different,” Kearns said. “You can run drills, but you can never get super close to what it’s like running a real call with a real patient.”

A difficult 911 call

One of the most difficult emergencies Kearns has experienced as an EMT occurred recently.

It was a constant struggle to keep a man alive.

“The patient ended up going into cardiac arrest several times throughout the entirety of the call,” Kearns explained.

On the scene was the first time the patient’s heart stopped. Kearns worked on him for about seven minutes and was able to revive him.

“We got him into the back of the ambulance,” Kearns said. “When we were roughly two or three minutes from the hospital, he went into cardiac arrest again.”

Kearns performed chest compressions and was able to get his heart beating.

However, when the patient arrived at the hospital, he went into cardiac arrest again for an agonizing third time.

“We were doing CPR airway management the entire time and giving him medications,” Kearns said. “You do prepare for the worst, but that was a rough call.  That one sticks out for me.”

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