LIVERMORE -- A dozen students make up the first graduating class of Las Positas College's paramedic training.
One of those groundbreaking students is Castro Valley resident Brendan McDonagh, 25.
"My interest in being a paramedic started early on, when I was a Boy Scout," said McDonagh, who holds a degree in international business from UC Santa Barbara. "I knew I wanted to be in public service and being a paramedic gives me the opportunity to help within the community and be in a medical profession."
He said the one-year course, which ended in October, included not only classroom time but valuable internships in a hospital and ambulance setting.
"It was really good to get hands-on experience in a real-life setting," said McDonagh. "Las Positas set us up with these internships, which was a big help."
Sebastian Wong, who is a firefighter and paramedic with the San Francisco Fire Department, runs the paramedic program at Las Positas.
"In setting up the program, we responded to our board of community leaders -- including fire chiefs -- who told us we needed to develop a paramedic program, that there were jobs waiting in the wings," said Wong.
Wong said that developing the program was a "herculean task." "We had to sift through the bureaucracy, develop a curriculum and make contacts with training partners," he said.
He said the strongest partners in the new venture were local hospitals, including ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton.
"The hospitals generously provided the training opportunity for the students," said Wong.
As an example, Wong said that first students learned from a classroom video about how to insert an IV. Then they would practice on a plastic doll. Then they would practice on each other. Finally, under a hospital nurse's direction, they would work on a patient.
"The nurses share a lot of information, and it helps to reinforce our classroom training," said Wong.
Donna Koon, an emergency services nurse manager at ValleyCare Medical Center, said she and her staff are happy that Las Positas College has asked for their support in training paramedics.
"We have witnessed a growing population in the Tri-Valley area over the years, including a rise in the number of pediatric and senior citizens that live in our community," said Koon. "The need for emergency services for our community members continues to be a top priority and is growing every day." She thinks Las Positas College did a good job in identifying this need.
"They recognized that the students would be the future first responders in our community, arriving at the homes of their family and friends and assuring they had the skills needed to care for them was of utmost importance," said Koon.
Wong said that the role of the paramedic has changed over the years.
"In 2008-9, the federal government, which regulates paramedic requirements through the Department of Transportation, expanded the curriculum for paramedics so that they would be ready to take on more medical responsibilities," said Wong.
He said the long-term vision for paramedics is that they are more community-involved.
"We would like to see paramedics giving flu vaccines, giving checkups for diabetes and finding proper resources for the repeat 911 caller who is addicted to alcohol and wants another detox at the hospital," said Wong.
Caitlin Poof, 22, the only woman who is graduating from the inaugural class and whose sights are set on being a full-time firefighter and paramedic in the Tahoe area, said paramedic work is definitely for women.
She said often there is a female victim of abuse or a sick child who likes the sound of a woman's voice. But "women that want this career have to have some thick skin," said Poof. "They can't be afraid of breaking a nail or getting their hands dirty."
Wong said that the current class of 19, which began in August, has one Asian male and no women.
"We truly would welcome more women and minorities into this class," he said. "It is reassuring to the community when the responders reflect the people in the community." Wong said this is also a financially rewarding career.
"In a private ambulance company, you can make about $50K per year," he said. "In the San Francisco Fire Department or other government agency, you could make about $100,000 without overtime."
For more information on the Las Positas College paramedic program, visit http://bit.ly/1clT6Kg or call 925.424.1000.