Thursday, May 3, 2018

Humanitarian Logistics Class Field Trip to the North Amherst Fire Station and a Public Thank You

On April 24, 2018, the students in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class at the Isenberg School and I had the special experience of taking a field trip to the North Amherst fire station, which is located at the corner of East Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane in the tow n of Amherst, Massachusetts. I was delighted to see that several students bicycled (one even used a UMass shared bicycle); some took the bus, and a few drove. The class would meet from 8:30-9:45AM so this was also the time for this very special field trip.

I would like to publicly thank the great Amherst Town Fire Department Chief Tim Nelson, and his outstanding team of firefighters, for this very special educational experience. In fact, it was hard to pull the students (and me) away at 10AM, even though several students had classes meeting down the hill at the UMass Amherst campus, afterwards!

The field trip began with an overview by Chief Tim Nelson as to the operations of the fire department and that it serves a community of 125 square miles with, typically, about 6,000 service calls a year. One aspect of the firefighters that is quite exceptional is that they are all cross-trained as EMTs, which many of the students marveled at. That very morning, there had already been 3 service calls before 7AM. The crew works quite an interesting schedule: 24 hours on, one day off; 24 hours on, and then 5 days off.  Given that the population that they serve includes 25,000 students in just the UMass Amherst campus alone plus a wide range of ages of the neighboring population, the challenges are immense. The Amherst Fire Department provides extraordinary services with limited resources. For example, the neighboring city of Northampton has twice the firefighting staff as does Amherst.

It was a wonderful overview presentation with the Fire Chief and the firefighters chiming in and answering many questions that we had. Given the community that we live in, the Fire Chief told us that, if something goes wrong, it is, typically, the fire department that gets called, whether it is electric or plumbing problems or cats stuck in trees and, of course, a variety of medical emergencies as well as fires. He spoke of the importance of emergency preparedness and shared with us that the department had already prepared for the Cardi B concert that was to take place the next day at the Mullins Center (yes, I had one student go) since UMass Amherst had beat out over 5 dozen universities to earn this free concert with 7,500 tickets given out.

Highlights of the field trip included exploring the stunning fire trucks and the ambulances! I was told that, because of the height of firetruck ladders, I should never stay in a hotel room above 7 stories - advice, which I think many of us will heed.

The students and I truly appreciated this field trip and one student told me that although she has relatives who are firefighters and EMTs, this was the first time she got to experience the work environment and equipment firsthand!

And, only a few days after our field trip, early Sunday morning, the Amherst Fire Department made heroic rescues of students (including several Isenberg School ones) from an apartment building that was on fire. Fire Chief Nelson called the fire: "One of those nightmare situations." One of the Isenberg School students in my class, who works in housing, that Monday morning helped to relocate students and even to provide pillows, etc. many of the students are seniors who are graduating next week and lost mostly everything.

Our community is truly blessed to have such hometown heroes as Fire Chief Tim Nelson and his firefighting crew! I purchased a Thank You card, which the students and I signed, and we sent it to the Chief. I also wrote a formal thank you letter and forwarded it to the Amherst Town Manager, Paul Bockelman, and to the Isenberg School Dean, Dr. Mark A. Fuller, since we all so much appreciated the experience and the incredible work that these brave firefighters/EMTs do! And, yes, we even got to meet one of the female firefighters, who returned from a service run.