GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — If a heart attack or drowning victim on the beach needs CPR, or someone takes a tumble down the stairs leading to the breach and breaks their leg, you call 911.

When you can call 911, it may take several minutes for help to arrive. That can be a real problem if someone’s heart stops, but not if Brooke Whitaker or one of her classmates is nearby.

“It’s the minutes that count. So as soon as a bystander can start chest compressions, even if they’re not perfect, it’s still something that can really be life or death,” the soon-to-be graduate of Grand Haven High School said.

She is part of the Careerline Tech Center’s EMS program that allows high school students from throughout Ottawa County to spend their semesters learning lifesaving and other medical skills. They will eventually go on to become Emergency Medical Technicians.

It’s one thing to learn the skills they need in a classroom, it’s another to apply them to real-life scenarios. That’s the reason for the trip to the beach Friday.

About 50 students from the program took part in training at Kirk Park in West Olive along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Here it seems more real,” Whitaker said. “There are people walking by us and stuff. It definitely puts a different perspective. We’re in a new area and place where it can happen.“

Careerline Techs EMS students train at Kirk Park in West Olive. (May 13, 2022)

Scenarios included a water rescue, performing CPR on a person who’s having a heart attack on the beach, treating an allergic reaction to a bee sting, handling an overdose, and taking care of a bicyclist who took a tumble while trying to ride down a staircase leading to the beach.

Beyond helping save life and limb, the program is also helping alleviate the ongoing EMS worker shortage.

For months. we’ve been telling you about the crisis facing EMS and other first responder services that are seeing a shortage of job applicants. By the time they graduate high school, students in the Careerline Tech program are ready to test for their EMT certification.

“It works. And then they can jump into a career field, and we can continue to invest in them and mentor them and bring them along,“ Shawn Schrader, interim Chief of Grand Haven Township Fire and Rescue, said.  

Even if a student goes through the program and decided EMS is not the career for them, they still carry a valuable skill.

“As we see higher and higher survival rates from cardiac arrests, the reason for that is bystander CPR, and bystanders using AEDs. Kirk Park has an AED. We’ll have students who are here for a day at the beach who will know what to do in case of an emergency,” Kim Schrader, an EMS instructor at Careerline Tech, said.

It’s real-life training for students like the daughter of first responders, Brooke Whitaker, who plans on going to college and becoming a doctor or nurse in an ER. And she’s already off to a good start.

“Knowing that I’m only 18 years old, but I could go out and save someone’s life, that’s cool and something a lot of people don’t have,” Whitaker said.