Building a College Fire & Paramedic Internship Program

The Keizer Fire District partnered with the Chemeketa Community College to offer practical life experience for firefighter and paramedic students.

The Keizer Fire District (KFD) was established in 1948 as a career/combination department serving a population of 36,000. Situated in the center of the City of Keizer, KFD covers approximately 10 square miles and responds to nearly 4,000 calls annually. We are an advanced life support (ALS) fire-based transporting agency with 23 career personnel and 40 volunteers. Over 80 percent of our emergency response calls are emergency medical Services (EMS) related while less than 2 percent are fire related.

Five miles from the front door of our station is Chemeketa Community College (CCC), a regional vocational training college known across the country for their fire and EMS accredited training and education. 

Keizer Fire began building our relationship with Chemeketa five years ago, first as part of a Paramedic Student Intern Program. As time passed, our program grew to include a Student Firefighter program and then a Fire Student Intern Program. As a fire-based transporting emergency response agency Keizer Fire has a lot of experience to offer a paramedic student. Paramedics in Oregon must have a two-year college degree to be certified in the state EMS system. Most paramedic students in Oregon come from Portland, Southern Oregon, or CCC programs. All but two of our paramedics came through the program at Chemeketa. I was surprised when I arrived in Keizer as fire chief in 2008, that we had no relationship with the college right outside our door.

Paramedic Program

We began building our student program in labor management. They are the stakeholders with the most to say about the program and with the most influence in its success. Their main concerns were extra duties to the student preceptors who would monitor, mentor, coach, counsel and ultimately have a major influence on the student's success. In addition, paperwork, direct supervision and oversight of patient care would be required. Each student is supervised by a shift paramedic and acts as the student preceptor. In labor management, it was proposed and agreed by labor that; at the completion of each three month term, the fire district would bill the college for $300 which would be paid directly to the preceptor. For the last five years, three students per term have been prepared as future paramedics with the mission, vision and values of KFD. The benefit to the students is obvious. 

The benefit to the college is accredited work experience education credits for their students and validation of the program. Successful students build up the college vocational degree education base. The KFD is benefitted by a three person paramedic unit which enhances staffing. Students bring current information and new trends in EMS while their preceptors gain the experience of mentoring and supervision while being part of a culture of training. Paramedics must constantly train and retrain to stay sharp in the world of EMS. A training facility provides for that culture. In addition, it is important to note that other agencies around our county team up with the college as well.

Student Firefighter Program

Next we decided to build a Student Firefighter program. We met with labor to propose a college tuition/sleeper program in which KFD would pay the college tuition for a qualified volunteer member to go to college and still pull shifts with the district. Our need arose from a shortage of qualified apparatus operators (engineer) personnel in the volunteer ranks and the district would benefit from the shift coverage by a qualified volunteer. The student would benefit from the college tuition in exchange for volunteer shift coverage. We currently have three student firefighters going to school full-time. These student-firefighters pull shifts on evenings and weekends.

In terms of employee man-hours, this equates to a formula of: three students, total amount for tuition is $18,500 per year, which in hours equals, 1 1/2 full-time employees in shift coverage (FTE). Student tuition is paid by the district directly to the college to clarify taxation reimbursement issues and validate this as a true intern program.

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