A Perfect Fit: EMS Training for Veterans

The Clifton Park Halfmoon Emergency Corps created an EMT class dedicated solely to military veterans.

The transition from military to civilian life isn’t easy. For Russell Coonradt, however, a former Navy Corpsman attached to a USMC Infantry unit in Afghanistan, returning to his career in emergency medical services was a perfect fit. Coonradt believes in a strong connection between the military and EMS, and knows it was reassuring to have his EMS career to go back to after active duty. 

“Military veterans are entrenched in EMS history and culture, from the first EMTs—many of whom were veterans of Korea and Vietnam—to the now widespread use of tourniquets and hemostatic agents from lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Coonradt. 

The transition to his civilian career was also eased because in Coonradt’s upstate New York EMS agency (Clifton Park Halfmoon Emergency Corps), both Executive Director Joe Santiago and Director of Administration Eric Hanchett are military veterans.

“When Executive Director Santiago returned from an Afghanistan deployment, all three of us had numerous conversations about how we can positively impact veterans in our current positions,” says Coonradt. “We came up with the idea of running an EMT class dedicated solely to military veterans, run by veterans.” 

Fortunately, they found great support in the community’s EMS leadership. “When we approached the Saratoga County EMS Coordinator and Training Center Coordinator, Mike McEvoy, he was 100 percent behind the plan. He was very interested in the veteran-only component as he had seen transitioning military veterans struggle in the traditional classes that consisted of younger students.”

Designed for Veterans by Veterans

Once they got the green light, they did not hesitate. Coonradt quickly became one of the founders of a free EMT course specifically designed and exclusively offered for U.S. military veterans. 

“We have found that the class is a great way to introduce military veterans to a career that has some similarities to their service—it’s both stressful and rewarding,” he says. “The program has been successful in helping veterans find employment and assisting veterans who are transitioning from military to civilian life.“

Coonradt has been an integral contributor to the program’s success, as well as a champion for the students’ achievement. Recently awarded EMS Educator of Excellence for the state of New York, he is consistently looking for ways to improve the curriculum and give students as much value out of the experience as possible.

“The students truly carry each other through the course, ensuring that when one of them slips up, the rest are there to catch them,” he says. “I start every class with a quote by Lt. Col. Cabaniss (USMC) in regard to the men and women he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan: ‘I’ve said these kids are our next greatest generation, but not necessarily because of what they did on the battlefield. It’s going to be because of what they did when they got home.’ I include this because I want and know that these veterans will do great things, their story doesn’t end with them taking the uniform off and it certainly doesn’t end with a new EMT card.”

Every student in the 2018 course passed the New York skills exam and written tests on their first attempt—a major testimony to Coonradt’s leadership and his team’s efforts.

“The most rewarding part of this program is being able to surround myself with some of the best people in this country, and for a short period of time, forget that it’s been almost eight years since I served.” 

Looking at the Big Picture

Coonradt is currently exploring strategic ways for his course model to be offered to veterans across New York. Officials like New York Department of Health Bureau of EMS Director, Ryan Greenberg, is big supporter of the course and the mission to expand it across the state. As with every initiative he leads, Coonradt is looking at the big picture and how he can improve EMS while also promoting the veteran community. For Coonradt, going Beyond the Call in his EMS role is obviously something he takes very seriously.

“What I hope to do is help them gravitate toward a career in emergency services because the field would greatly benefit from having these individuals.”  

Email emtveteran@gmail.com to connect with Russell Coonradt about EMT training for veterans.