Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks for the Stress and Pressure

In 2005, I was 28 years old and living at a volunteer fire station in Black Butte Ranch, Oregon. In return for living at the station, the department was paying for my Fire Structural Science and Paramedic education at a nearby Oregon community college. I’d always wanted to be a firefighter/paramedic. Already an EMT-B, I had finished my Fire Science and Paramedic prerequisites my first year and was looking forward to my second year of training.

Unfortunately, my school then suspended the Paramedic Program because of administrative changes. One term off became two and was quickly becoming three. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.

One of the firefighter/paramedics at the Black Butte Ranch station was a native Texan and an Aggie. He suggested that I look into the 10-week, fast-track EMT-Paramedic course offered by TEEX. I needed to move forward quickly, so I researched costs and discovered that TEEX not only offered the least expensive program available (even considering the move to Texas for the duration of the course), but would also put my career goals back on track.

When he first told me about the program, I remember thinking, "There's absolutely no way I'm moving to Texas." For an Oregonian, let me just say that Texas was different and took some adjustment. First, Oregon doesn’t have the humidity, heat, lightning storms or flash floods that Texas does. Also, many of the instructors, to my Yankee ears, had an accent that took some getting used to. Plus, everyone says “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” all the time. I quickly found out that if I didn’t incorporate those phrases into my everyday vocabulary, it would possibly come across as rude or disrespectful. And the last thing I wanted to do was inadvertently insult someone.

Going into the program, I knew was it was going to be tough, but I didn't realize just how tough it would be. However, there was always great support staff there to help me through it. They were always willing to spend extra time outside of class to answer any of my questions or to address my concerns.

During the hospital internship part of the program, I was able to go online and schedule my hours and pick from the hospital departments available for work. This flexibility in scheduling was a huge factor in allowing me to specifically tailor my internship. I chose ESD-1 in Houston, hoping to gain a lot of experience through a broad range of calls. After comparing stories with other paramedics later back home in Oregon, I think I had more than a wild internship!

Recently, I was comparing notes with a friend who attended the TEEX course after I did. He’d picked my brain before he went, and I’d told him that TEEX had an extremely demanding curriculum. But I’d also told him that it was possible to make it through as long as you were willing and had the self-discipline to study every day. After he completed the course, he agreed with me that it was difficult, but worth all of the hard work.

By using the TEEX 10-week fast-track Paramedic course, I was riding as a paramedic 10 months earlier than if I would have graduated from my original Oregon program on time. Now, I’m working as a paramedic for a strong Oregon ambulance company with 55 years of service and commitment.

I have given TEEX’s information to many EMT-B students here in Oregon who are looking for a way to get a head start on their careers. Hopefully, many more Oregonians will eventually be spending the time and effort to travel to Texas and go through your program.

TEEX, thanks for all the good stress and pressure you put me through to accomplish my goals.

Andy Brookman is a paramedic for an ambulance service in Washington County, Oregon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

China On the Move

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in Beijing and Tianjin, China. We visited the country to sign an agreement with Tianjin University that would kick off a project to establish a fire school at the university. A delegation from Tianjin visited TEEX last year to look at our capabilities to serve the petrochemical industry in emergency response. As you may have heard, China has an emerging strength in petrochemical capacity centered in Tianjin, and the university is looking to provide a similar level of emergency services training to their industry.

It was my first time to visit this country, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. I was wowed by the Olympics on TV like everyone else. But it was no different than being wowed by the new Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium, because we only needed to travel a few miles to see the other side of the story.

This is a very vibrant country with lots of activity and energy. This is a country on the move with a genuine purpose, and they have the resources to fulfill that purpose. There is an air of optimism and hope. Sure, there is a fair amount of air pollution due to their automobiles and industrial expansion, which reminded me of growing up in Los Angeles. Personal space is at a premium, similar to downtown New York.

If you are like me, you have always wondered about the human rights issues. But I saw nothing to lead me to believe people were unfairly constrained in their daily lives. People traveled around the cities freely, and I was always greeted with friendly curiosity.

All in all, I have nothing negative to say about this country, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us Americans. The challenge is that this economic force is competing against us. It is very apparent that their government is pulling out all the stops to become the biggest exporter of goods in the world. For those of us that have a strong distaste for any government intervention in the market, be aware that the global playing field for our companies is tilted against us. We cannot regulate our small businesses without helping them acquire new markets

China is a great opportunity for United States businesses. The Chinese marketplace is huge, but I doubt that it will open up for small businesses by itself. We as a country need to look at our policies for increasing our success in exporting, with a focus on helping the little guy to compete more effectively.

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wide Area Search

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a Wide Area Search class, offered by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). It was packed with information and exercises and I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the course. I learned an incredible amount of information and left with an increased level of confidence in my abilities, in an urban environment and beyond.
When I first heard of the Wide Area Search class, I thought that the "wide area" was more a matter of mixed geography (urban, rural and wilderness). While these different environments are considered, the "wide area" is more in terms of skill sets. And the purpose of the Wide Area Search course is to fill the skills gap between wilderness and urban SAR, so as to have a more affective team (management and searchers) following a large-scale event that could have you dealing with an urban environment that may as well be wilderness, because of the level of destruction.

To give you a better idea of where the folks were coming from when developing the course, the whole Wide Area Search concept was in reaction to lessons learned after Katrina.

However, to paraphrase one of the instructors (there were three who tag-teamed throughout each day of the three-day course), the information offered up was not meant to be applied in specific circumstances, but rather as "tools" at your disposal for any relevant search situation. The main focus was towards large-scale events, but many of the things discussed could just as easily be applied to a missing person situation.

The class spanned three eight-hour days and was challenging and well thought out. It was created by the instructors themselves, who are all veteran SAR personnel, with years of experience behind them. They conducted the class better than any I've ever attended, in this field or any other. These particular TEEX instructors have been involved in many SAR efforts over the years, from Katrina and Ike, to the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery, to smaller scale urban and wilderness searches - you name it.
While the class had it's fair share of lectures (though, far from boring), it was also full of table-top exercises, as well as on-your-feet exercises that progressively built upon what we'd learned. We assumed many different roles from exercise to exercise, acting as both search managers and "boots-on-the-ground" searchers throughout the three days.

Wide Area Search provides a lot of valuable information for any and all SAR personnel when dealing with a wide-spread disaster situation, and provides knowledge and techniques that transcend any single search and rescue environment or scenario. Considering the many different forms that a large-scale disaster can take (tornado, earthquake, hurricane, terrorist attack, etc.), this is information that everyone in search and rescue should have.

Honestly, if this is representative of other courses offered by TEEX, I highly recommend taking any of them that become available to you. I'd even encourage you to get with the higher-ups in your own organizations to look into hosting courses from TEEX, just to assure that more of them become available to the greater SAR community.

Bobby Hinson is a member of a local CERT group in Georgia and is always striving to become more deeply involved in SAR. This post was originally published on his own blog at
For further information about TEEX's US&R Search Program, send the inquiries to Jim Yeager, at 888-999-9775 or 979-458-0857 or visit