How to Become a First Responder in 5 Steps

Learn about the job duties of a first responder, and find out what you need to do to become one. Read about training, licensure, certification, salary and advancement opportunities for first responders. Schools offering Biomedical Engineering Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a First Responder?

A first responder is an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic who arrives first at an accident scene and provides initial care to accident victims. Your duties include performing a preliminary assessment and diagnosis of patients, administering first aid or life support, stabilizing patients and transporting them to hospitals via ambulance. You may also monitor patients during transport, as well as submit reports on the patient's condition and reaction to treatment. Airway obstruction, emergency childbirth, bleeding and shock are among the situations you encounter. Between emergencies, you restock supplies and perform light maintenance on communications equipment, medical equipment and vehicles.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

To enroll in a first responder program you will need a high school diploma or have passed the General Educational Development (G.E.D.) test. High school courses in English, math and science can also provide background knowledge that is helpful for later training. Some high schools offer classes that acquaint you with the equipment and procedures used by EMTs and paramedics.

Step 2: Enter a Training Program

You can pursue training at three levels - EMT basic, EMT intermediate and EMT paramedic. Programs are available at all three from community colleges, vocational schools and technical academies. Courses in an EMT basic program cover trauma, respiratory management and cardiac arrest, and train you in the use of suction devices, oxygen delivery equipment, defibrillators and backboards.

EMT intermediate programs introduce you to basic pharmacology, IV fluid treatment and advanced patient assessment. Many require EMT basic certification for admission. Paramedic programs provide advanced training in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and resuscitation. Some programs award a 2-year associate's degree.

Step 3: Obtain Certification and a License

All 50 U.S. states require you to have a license. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but most include NREMT certification as part of their standard. Certification is available for all three levels of EMT from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). You need to be at least 18 years old and have completed an approved EMT basic, intermediate or paramedic program to be eligible for certification.

The certification exam at each level consists of a cognitive or written test and a psychomotor or practical test. Initial certification is valid for one year. Each renewal is valid for two years. You can renew EMT basic without retaking the exam by completing 12 hours of continuing education credits, and renew EMT intermediate and paramedic by completing 72 hours of continuing education credits.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ambulance services were the largest employer of first responders (www.bls.gov). You also have significant opportunities with local government agencies and hospitals, and a small number with private physicians and outpatient facilities. In 2008 about 210,700 people worked as paid first responders. Employment was projected to rise nine percent to 229,700 over the 2008-2018 decade. Not including any who were self-employed, the BLS estimated there were about 221,760 EMTs in 2010. As of May 2010 the median annual salary was $30,360 according to the BLS.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

If you're a basic EMT first responder, you could seek additional training to become an intermediate EMT, and if you're an intermediate EMT you could become a paramedic. As a paramedic you could become a supervisor, administrator or emergency services operations manager. EMTs and paramedics both can become dispatchers or instructors. If you discover you enjoy working in medicine, you could return to school to become a nurse, physician or other medical practitioner.

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