Firefighters in St. Paul, Minn., are going back to school with the help of students from the St. Paul Academy and Summit School.
About 30 advanced-Spanish students from the 900-student private school have volunteered to teach firefighters, dispatchers, and administrative workers basic Spanish to help in their work in the diverse community.
Rose McGee, the school’s community-service coordinator, proposed the program to provide students with alternative means of service.
“Kids don’t learn everything they need to know about a community by just going out and doing local clean-ups,” said Tracy Madden, the school’s communications assistant. “This program gets them in touch with community leaders and shows them how their work can have a positive effect on others.”
The department accepted the offer immediately, said Ted Vanderbeek, the St. Paul fire department’s public information officer. St. Paul’s growing population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom speak little or no English, has increased the need for emergency workers and dispatchers to be bilingual.
“Quick communication gets the job done far better and faster when someone is hurt, sick, or in pain,” Mr. Vanderbeek said. “You can get more information with verbal than visual communication.”
Students in grades 10-12 hold classes four times a week on the upper-school campus for about 60 firefighters.
“It really puts the shoe on the other foot,” said Ms. Madden, who added that students were shy at first. “They get a real charge out of it now.”
Students teach the names for relationships such as aunt, uncle, father, and mother, but they also stress medical terminology and ways to ask people the kinds of medications they take or how they feel. They are translating many of the fire department’s safety documents into Spanish and working to provide a Spanish voice-over for the department’s “fire and safety” video.