Safe and Sound Schools
Empowering a Nation of Safer School Communities
Safe and Sound Schools

This year, May 21-27 is National EMS Week! Many of us at Safe and Sound Schools know how important our EMS responder’s are to the safety of our schools, but the connection might not be so obvious to everyone. We sat down with Justin Pignataro, Administrator at the Maryland Center for Safe Schools and retired Tactical Medic to learn more.

Safe and Sound Schools: What is it that EMS Responders do for the safety of our schools?

Justin Pignataro: EMS Responder’s are always ready to respond to someone’s emergency within moments of notification.

What most folks do not see is the “behind the scenes” preparation, the basic EMT program for certification is a minimum 168 hours of classroom–practical and clinical skills training, followed by written and skills tests.

To become a Paramedic level provider, months of additional training is required.

Within the Community and our schools, EMS providers are an integral part of what we call our Public Education component. Along with their fire service counterparts, they provide community education such as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and basic first aid training, familiarization to young and old on how they do their job and what to expect if you are in need of their help, along with building relationships with the citizens we serve.    

Safe and Sound Schools: As an EMT, what’s the best part about working with local schools?

Justin Pignataro: We love working with our youth, the younger kids show an enthusiasm that is unrestrained and energetic, with a lot of “what is it like” and “what if” questions, while our middle and high school youth tend to ask more real-life based scenario questions, usually based upon something that has happened within their life, neighborhood or at school.

I love educating others about we do and how we handle crisis every day.  I think it shows students and adults that although “life happens,” we can overcome most things together.

Safe and Sound Schools: What’s one (or two) of the greatest challenges EMTs face working with youth today?

Justin Pignataro: Communication with anyone in a crisis is always a challenge. Providers are trained to remain calm while assisting people through crisis. From the first few seconds on scene, we try to portray calm and speak slowly to diffuse the fear and apprehension that people experience in crisis. It really helps to to calm them down and let them know that we are there to help. Most kids are really interested in what we do and enjoy learning about the tools and technology that we use to help people.  It always helps to show those off a little!

The second challenge we face relates to the information age that we live in today. Often instead of calling for medical help when needed, young people will attempt to take matters into their own hands first, asking a friend for advice or “googling” to find their own treatment. While well intended, this can lead to more problems and often makes the situation worse. As much as possible, we look for opportunities to interact with youth in the community so that they will know that we are here for them—no matter how big or small the crisis. 


Thank you, Dino (Justin Pignataro) and all of our EMS professionals for your work to keep us safe at school and in the community!

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