Teens respond to city’s Emergency Service Cadet Program
She’s only a sophomore in high school, but Mackenzi Rachford will start training next week that could soon have her riding in Tonganoxie’s fleet of emergency vehicles.
“I think it’s going to be really fun and exciting,” said Rachford, a sophomore at Tonganoxie High School. “I think the EMS and cops would be really exciting to try out.”
She is one at least 30 Tonganoxie teenagers from 14 to 20 years of age who have signed up for the city’s Emergency Services Cadet Program. Police Chief Jeff Brandau said the program would start Monday.
“They’ll go through a basic training program,” he said. “That will take about nine months to get them through. Once they get through that and are 16 (years old), they can ride along. It’s up to them. They can make arrangements with whatever service they want to ride with.”
Brandau said he started exploring the program after a conversation with a resident who had been in cadet program in Alaska. Cadet programs are common in the state’s larger cities, and Brandau said he had cadets ride with him early in his career as a patrolman with the Salina Police Department.
But it was realized a community the size of Tonganoxie would need a different model, and it was decided to open the cadet program to the police and fire departments and emergency medical service, Brandau said. The wisdom of that has been reflected in student numbers.
“We’ve had a really good response,” he said. “Really, more than I thought we’d have.”
A partner in the effort is the Heart of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which provides materials and insurance coverage for the classes through its Explorer program.
The cadets won’t be asked to run into burning buildings or take down armed felons. Brandau said. Cadets who rode with him in his patrolman days handled radio traffic and called out codes, he said.
Still riding with officers on the street and first responders could expose the cadets to unpredictable situations, and Brandau said they would be trained accordingly.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “That’s why they better be trained and paying attention.”
After an orientation class and first-aid training, in which the students will be certified in CPR, there will be a 10-week firefighter 1 course before the police section starts, the police chief said.
“It’s everything we would basically train a part-time officer,” Brandau said. “How to handcuff. How to defend themselves. How to make reports. How to handle weapons. They will be weapons training qualified.”
The ride-along opportunity for cadets 16 or older will be optional, but continuing Monday evening classes with more in-depth training will be required.
“If we are going to put this kind of effort into this and this kind of investment, we need a commitment from them they are safe and willing to do it,” Brandau said.
The training and experience the students receive would give them an advantage should they look to make careers in one of the three fields, Brandau said. The cadets would have the same training as that initially given new officers, he said.
“They would have to go through our part-time academy, but they would find it to be easy,” he said. “And they will know what to expect and what not to expect.” They’ll know what they are getting into.”
That is the appeal for Rachford and her friend Jaycee Knipp, a THS junior who encouraged her to join the program. Both girls plan to pursue medical careers, and Rachford said the cadet program would give her a taste of what such a career would be like.
“I want to do something I like, not something I don’t like,” Rachford said. “It’s a plus for EMT training. If you get into it, there are a lot of opportunities to broaden career choices.”
Letters of recommendation from police and fire chiefs and EMT supervisors would also be a boost for college admission and in job seeking, Rachford said.
The prospect of creating a cadre of young people trained in emergency service basics was exciting for the community’s future, said Jeff Adams, school resource officer for the Tonganoxie school district who recruited many of the students.
“For those who want to get into the profession, this is a foot in the door,” he said. “It’s a total win/win. I don’t think you can do better than having people working in your emergency services being from your community. They know the people. They know the town.”
But Adams and Brandau said the community’s benefit would be realized before former cadets joined the city’s emergency service departments as adults. The cadets would fill safe support functions once their training was completed, the two men said.
“Obviously, we don’t want them getting involved in anything dangerous,” Adams said. “It like the Weather Service has their spotters out there. There’s nothing like having good people with trained eyes out there.
“Just imagine if we had the Joplin situation here. We’re going to have a great number of kids who are ready to help. That’s what this is geared for. We have kids who we are turning into community leaders.”
The thought of being able to help in such a situation excites Rachford.
“If I had an opportunity for something like that, I’d go for it,” she said. “One of the main things I look forward to is going out to help.
“Giving young people a chance to do stuff like this is cool. You have to give them credit for that.”