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Mohawk students learn life-saving skills from local firefighters

Recorder/Paul Franz
Mohawk students and members of their local fire departments Eli Smith and Jake Lowell demonstrate CPR on a dummy to fellow student Eric Shattuck where students have been taking a first responder class.

Recorder/Paul Franz Mohawk students and members of their local fire departments Eli Smith and Jake Lowell demonstrate CPR on a dummy to fellow student Eric Shattuck where students have been taking a first responder class.

BUCKLAND — In the small gym of the Mohawk Trail Regional School, about 30 students kneel on the floor, rhythmically pushing on the chests of infant mannequins with unusually white faces. The students are learning how to save a child that isn’t breathing.

“Today we’re doing choking,” explains Tucker Jenkins of Heath, as he leads the way into the First Responder Plus program. At 16, Tucker has already been through this course and is a teaching assistant, working with those who are just learning the Heimlich maneuver and other life-saving techniques. He’s also a junior firefighter in his hometown of Heath.

The classroom lights accidentally go off and, without missing a beat, several students whip out phones and continue rhythmically pressing the dolls’ chests by the glow of their cell phone screens.

“You could be working in a hurricane or something,” remarks student Lucas Obert, as he holds a bag valve mask resuscitator over the doll’s mouth. Obert, 17, is already a junior firefighter in the Colrain department. He said he took the class “because I want to feel productive in my life. I want to be a police officer, too. And this will help with that.”

At a time when local fire and ambulance departments are looking for more volunteers, this science elective course seems to be more popular than ever.

Mohawk student Theodore Barnhart of Buckland said he would like to apply for a position as a junior firefighter in his town department, after he passes his first-responder course. “I kind of want to make a profession of this,” he said. “I’m thinking of going into a medical field, in the military.”

This semester, 60 students are enrolled in First Responder Plus — about 30 percent more students than ever before, says science teacher Phillip Lussier, who has taught the course for six years. There are so many students that Lussier has had to borrow more first-aid practice mannequins from local fire and ambulance departments to have enough to go around, to meet American Heart Association requirements for this course.

Lussier is also an Ashfield ambulance volunteer, but he’s not the only emergency responder working with the students. On this particular day, Colrain firefighters and ambulance EMTs Dan and Belle Dyer are also helping out.

Of the students in the 18-week program, five are already junior firefighters in their hometown fire departments, says Lussier.

“This is the biggest group I’ve ever had in any semester,” said Lussier. “Usually, there are only two sections of students. It’s been fairly well-attended, but this semester, we’ve had to add a third section.”

The course is a science elective, with firefighters and ambulance workers from Heath, Colrain and Shelburne Falls often helping out. Also, some of the students who have already taken the course, like Jenkins, come back to help out other students.

One of the teaching assistants, Jake Lowell, 17, of Shelburne Falls, said he took the course through the Shelburne Falls Fire Department, where he is a junior firefighter. He said that department has three to four junior firefighters, along with a few that have turned 18 and are now regular firefighters.

Lowell said the junior firefighters go to every training night they can, to learn more, and they respond to calls to assist with the “external stuff,” such as throwing ladders, helping with the pumps and the hydrants. Lowell said he joined the department when he was about 14 and has been on about 80 calls since then.

Lowell says he wants to be a full-time firefighter and an EMT.

“He’s a good kid who shows a lot of interest,” says Shelburne Falls firefighter and EMT Larry Bernier, who sometimes helps with the Mohawk class. He said the Mohawk program has helped connect the fire departments with young people who are good candidates for firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians.

“The Mohawk program definitely gives them a headstart in finding out what (emergency management service) is all about,” he said.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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