A few months ago, Adam Weiss led a crew of Las Vegas-area firefighters to one of the worst scenes imaginable: a four-year-old child drowning in an apartment pool.
Emergency calls like this one typically don’t end well, but Weiss and his team sprang into action. Weiss, a captain paramedic for the Clark County Fire Department, quickly examined a map of the apartment complex and noted two pools there. They didn’t know which one to respond to, so Weiss told his team and an arriving ambulance to split up, saving precious time.
They found the child in cardiac arrest, provided advanced life support and after seven minutes, the child’s pulse returned. “In our industry, this is the best result you can attain” – being able to take a living patient to the hospital, Weiss said.
This is a story of an incident that went well and boosted the crew’s morale, knowing they made a difference, Weiss said. It’s also the kind of life-saving work three USC Price School students in the online Master of Public Administration (MPA) program do every day.
Along with Weiss, Andrew Padilla and Ryan Tyler study remotely while working for the Clark County Fire Department. Padilla and Tyler are both engineer paramedics, responsible for driving fire engines and ambulances, as well as managing the water flow used to put out fires. They have also both served as executive board members for their firefighters union, IAFF Local 1908.
Weiss, meanwhile, plays a leadership role, managing a crew of first responders. He is on track to become a battalion chief when the department soon expands to keep up with the growing city.
The USC Price School’s online MPA program not only provides the much-needed flexibility for the first responders, but a curriculum that helps with both their current jobs and future ambitions. Tyler, for example, is an active member of the local firefighters’ union, and has learned more about municipal government through the MPA program.
“I wanted to understand more of the interaction between government officials and our union officials and how those work together,” Tyler said. “I think this program really helped me to understand some of the nuances and some of the challenges.”
They are hardly the first students to come from the Clark County Fire Department, said Dora Kingsley Vertenten, a USC Price School professor and coordinator of the MPA program. Members of the department have recommended it to their colleagues.
“We have to be valuable to them every day,” Vertenten said. “These firefighters work demanding jobs, so if our education didn’t provide skills they can use today in their emergency services roles, as well as in the future, they wouldn’t stay with USC.”
Being a firefighter in Las Vegas presents unusual challenges. With revelers and gamblers partying around the clock, fire stations must stay open all night. Firefighters are also responsible for protecting some of the most expensive real estate in the country, with multi-billion-dollar casino resorts lining the Las Vegas strip.
The city has one of the nation’s busiest airports and covers a wide range of areas, from high-rise hotels to economically challenged neighborhoods.
“Our department works 24-hour shifts,” said Padilla, whose station responds to about 40 calls per day. “For a lot of our stations, you’re not awake for the full 24 hours, but more so than a lot of places around the country.”
Padilla and Tyler are also paramedics, putting them in charge of the medical response at a scene. It’s a lot of responsibility, since most calls are actually medical in nature. Only about 10% of a firefighter’s job involves battling blazes, Weiss said.
Weiss, who has been a firefighter since 2005, said the MPA degree will help him pursue careers within public administration or emergency management when he’s no longer a firefighter. The education has also exposed him to different ideas and perspectives from professors and fellow students.
“I also think that the more highly educated people we have in the department that have had access to other ways of thinking, it makes us more diverse and makes us be able to do more for our current fire department and the county as well,” Weiss said.