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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!

May 15-21 is the 42nd Annual National EMS Week
With school safety concerns top of mind in many school communities, an increasing number are taking necessary steps to develop and improve emergency preparedness plans. As key players in community safety, our emergency medical technicians and providers are an ever important resource to school communities. This week in celebration of EMS week, we shine a light on EMS providers and encourage our Safe and Sound community to collaborate with these professionals for safer schools.

What is EMS?
EMS stands for Emergency Medical Services. EMS professionals provide basic and advanced medical care when people experience accidents or medical emergencies.

Who works for EMS?
EMS is made up of trained professionals including 9-1-1 dispatchers, emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), advanced EMTs, and paramedics. Each EMS practitioner performs a role in a medical emergency and may be a paid worker or community volunteer. EMS care can be provided by police or fire departments, hospitals, private ambulance companies, or a combination of these.

What is EMS Week?
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), EMS Week dates back to 1974 when President Gerald Ford declared November 3 -10, “National Medical Services Week.” For the following four years, the observance continued until it was re-instituted by ACEP in 1982.

In 1992, EMS Week was moved to the  third week of May, celebrating the important work EMS practitioners do to our communities. EMS Week brings communities together to honor those that provide day-to-day lifesaving services. Whether you publicly recognize your local EMS department with a catered lunch or award ceremony, or write a personalized thank you letter, EMS Week is the perfect time to recognize and reach out to your local EMS practitioners.

Why should we celebrate EMS Week?
In addition to providing day-to-day basic and advanced emergency care, EMS practitioners also assist in educating communities on safety and health care. For a school, that may mean providing CPR, first-aid, and preparedness to school staff or teaching children about health care, injury prevention, and 9-1-1 services.

How can schools work together with EMS?
School safety is a community effort. It takes all hands on deck. Schools can work together with EMS practitioners by:

  • Inviting local EMS departments to visit the school – This allows the departments to become familiarized with the layout of the campus and its staff. Further, it allows students to become comfortable and accustomed to the sight of public safety figures, like EMS practitioners on school grounds.
  • Taking a trip – Tour the local 9-1-1 dispatch center or schedule an ambulance tour for students at your school to increase understanding and familiarity between EMS personnel and students.
  • Meeting to develop and update emergency preparedness plans – When it comes to emergency/crisis preparedness plans, schools should work together with public safety departments to develop strategies and plans for different types of emergencies and threats.
  • Participating in CPR and first-aid training – According the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, the national average response time to an emergency is 5-6 minutes. During an emergency, every minute counts. Learning CPR and first-aid are invaluable skills to have, especially for school community members.

Access our AUDIT Toolkit and check out “A Welcome Invitation” to learn about School Safety Socials for first responders.

Sources: ACEP, NAEMT, National School Safety and Security Services, U.S. Department of Justice