PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With the cost of college so high, there have been conversations about adding more vocational training in high schools. The Pittsburgh Public School District is doing that with a new program that began this school year.

The program called the “Emergency Response Technology” program trains high school students to be police officers, firefighters and EMTs, or emergency medical technicians.

This program is in its first year and is already getting huge support from the community, business and the students.

The program at Westinghouse High School is designed to prepare high school students for jobs in fire, police or other law enforcement and emergency medical services. The students say they are excited about what they are learning.

Junior Hope Moore is one of 26 students in the program.

“We’re getting a head start to be what we want to be, and most children don’t get this opportunity,” she says.

Instructor Matthew Patrick runs the program and says students can get an EMT certification when they graduate and will be able to work on an ambulance right away. Recently, custom fire helmets were donated to the program by MSA – The Safety Company, with logos for the school district and the program on the helmets, designed by the students.

The Emergency Response Technology program started with a $300,000 grant from the teachers union, and the city and community groups have donated thousands of dollars of equipment on top of that, including a fire truck and ambulance for the kids to train on.

It is a big commitment for the students — Monday through Friday, 2 1/2 hours a day for three years, learning all the basic skills of fire, police and EMTs.

Many of the students say they want a career in public service, like sophomore Shelton Green.

“With the things we learn, it will help us in the real world to help people if they have problems,” Green says.

HMoore already has a plan for her career.

“After graduation, I want to go to college for criminal justice,” she says, and “to puruse a career as a police officer, and I want to be a detective for homicide.”

The city of Pittsburgh hopes she will do just that. When this program was announced back in 2015, it was also mentioned as a way to help diversify public safety personnel in the city of Pittsburgh. At that time, the police department was 85 percent white and the fire department was 91 percent white. The hope is many of the students will graduate and then become Pittsburgh Police officers and firefighters.

And even if the students choose not to pursue emergency services as a career, it’s always a great second job or backup job. They can even work on an ambulance to help pay for college or in the summers.

For more information, visit Kidsburgh.org.

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Kristine Sorensen