Students teach Spanish to firefighters, paramedics

Benjamin Duer

Sirens scream. Horns blare.

An ambulance races down the street responding to an emergency call that has left a man lying in pain.

The man cries: “¡Ay, me duele la cabeza!”

Huh?

It’s a foreign language — Spanish. It’s enough to stop a paramedic in his or her tracks trying to decipher what the injured man has said.

And what he said was this: “Ouch! My head hurts!”

Jackson firefighters and paramedics hope they can break the language barrier with free Spanish lessons taught by local high school students.

Breaking barriers

“It hasn’t been a major issue, but we’re trying to be proactive,” said Fire Chief Ted Heck. “We do have residents who live in the community who do not speak English. Many of them speak Spanish.”

Teaching firefighters will be a team of juniors and seniors at Jackson High School, members of the county's Spanish National Honor Society. Spanish and French teacher Parthena Draggett is the group’s adviser.

Led by senior Brennan Hamilton, the group is developing a Spanish curriculum tailored to fire personnel. The course will consist of 12 to 14 lessons.

Hamilton, 18, whose grandfather works for the Fire Department, said there is a language barrier in the community that could hinder care.

“Through these lessons, we will be able to correct that, so there is more trust and fluidity and better communication, which will save lives,” he said.

The lessons, which fulfill a community service requirement for society members, will begin later this month.

Developing curriculum

Last week, students and members of the Fire Department spent three days brainstorming ideas for the coursework.

Hamilton said lessons would focus on medical care and other duties that firefighters and paramedics handle daily.

For example, “How to ask: ‘Do you have pain? Do you have shortness of breath?’ ” senior Dan Butler said.

Heck said there are 60 or 70 terms or phrases “that could be crucial” for paramedics and firefighters to communicate.

'Not immigration'

The group also will teach firefighters and paramedics how to gain the trust of their Spanish-speaking patients, many of whom are afraid of uniforms.

“We’ll teach them to say, ‘We’re not immigration. We’re not the police. We’re here to help you,’ ” Hamilton said.

Heck said his staff is open and enthusiastic to learn Spanish, so it makes it easier for them to perform their duties.

“I think they know it’s crucial that they have to be able to communicate with the people that they’re helping,” senior Olivia Johnson said.

Source: Jackson High School