Photo credits: EMT via Unsplash
It is not uncommon for college students to work while attending school, usually in restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and coffee shops. Hannah O’Leary is no different — although her job is a bit more action-packed compared to working at the local Giant.
When she’s not working on schoolwork for her Studio Art degree, Hannah spends a significant amount of time volunteer fire-fighting and working as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Serving the community both here at West Chester and at her hometown, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Hannah volunteers at Fame Fire Company (located next to the Edge) and Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Company. Hannah was also very excited to share that she has recently gotten a job at Friendship Ambulance, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) division of Royersford Fire Department, where she has a paid position as an EMT and firefighter.
Hannah began her journey in 2019, accompanying her father and brother to Valley Forge Fire Company. Her father, she said, has been involved in volunteer firefighting for over 30 years and was the Assistant Chief at Berwyn Fire Company. When she was younger, her father would tell her stories of all the things he had encountered; the idea of following in his footsteps had always been in the back of her mind. She finally got the chance to take the first step in a long journey when she took time off of school for medical leave.
At Valley Forge Fire Company, Hannah worked hard and completed her Fire 1 certification. This allowed her to begin responding to fire alarms and medical emergencies. When she started school again, she joined Fame Fire Company to continue volunteering and serving her local community. Not long afterwards, she joined Good Fellowship Ambulance Club, also local to West Chester, to begin her training as an EMT. It took her two years of dedicated volunteering to complete her EMT certification. “I must’ve spent hundreds of hours on ambulance training,” Hannah said. After completing the certification, she was allowed to begin receiving pay for the hours she would put in as an EMT.
Firefighting and working as an EMT has had many benefits for Hannah. “I think it’s helped me become a better person,” Hannah said. “I’ve definitely grown a lot… It’s been a confidence boost for me.” Even though no two situations will be the same, it’s Hannah’s job to get on the scene and take control of the situation. Being able to handle anything that’s thrown her way, even if it’s terrifying, has helped — and is still helping — her become more confident in herself and her abilities.
There are, however, some downsides. The job comes with long shifts and weird hours. She often takes 24-hour shifts that go from Sundays into Mondays. “Sometimes I’m too exhausted to go to school on Monday,” she said. Hannah said that doing this job and working on a college degree has definitely been difficult and mentions the burnout she sometimes feels. “It’s definitely not for everyone,” Hannah said. She also sees how cold and awful the world can be when she’s on the job but returns home to everyday errands as if nothing has happened — like she hasn’t witnessed terrible cases of child abuse or elderly neglect. “I watched a 10 year-old kid cry over his mother’s dead body,” Hannah said, “and then I went to Wegmans afterwards.”
Regardless, Hannah continues to volunteer and work as an EMT. “I think it’s worth seeing all the bad things that I see,” Hannah said. She doesn’t take the privilege of being with people in some of the worst moments of their lives lightly — she works hard to provide comfort to patients and their loved ones whenever she can. She said her strengths include calming patients down and making sure they feel safe and respected, no matter what the situation is. She hopes that one day she might be able to help deliver a baby, a sharp contrast to her usual transporting of patients to hospice.
Although she thoroughly enjoys her work as a firefighter/EMT, Hannah says she wouldn’t want it to be her career. “As much as I love this job,” she says, “it isn’t sustainable as being my sole career.” Hannah said that those who work as firefighters/EMTs full-time to support their families tend to work 80-100 hours a week. They are “burnt-out and miserable,” she said.
Graduating at the end of this semester, Hannah is planning on continuing her work serving the community in addition to creating more art. Working as a firefighter/EMT has benefitted her art career, she said. Providing her with inspiration and allowing her to create the art she wants to make, earning money as an EMT means she doesn’t have to rely on commissioned pieces. It doesn’t seem like Hannah will want to take a break from firefighting and EMT work any time soon anyways, stating, “I want it to always be a part of my life.”
Jess Baker is a fifth-year Biology and English major with a minor in Journalism. firstname.lastname@example.org.