HARRISONBURG — When Engine 26 rolls out of the fire station on Lucy Drive in Harrisonburg, firefighter Luke Walker will be prepared to handle the worst of the worst medical calls.
The 27-year-old Luray resident earned his paramedic certification in May. He’s now capable of providing additional life-saving measures, such as providing cardiac drugs, that basic medics can’t provide.
Roughly 60% of the fire department’s calls are medically related. He said earning his certification has been a goal.
“I’ve always wanted to do this eventually, because I really enjoy the medical side of being a firefighter,” he said.
The Harrisonburg Fire Department announced last week that five firefighters recently received the certification. In addition to Walker, firefighters Eric Higgs, Keith Link, Matthew McCray and Wesley Meadows received certification.
Chief Ian Bennett said the department now has 21 paramedics but is looking to add a few more each year. All of the city’s 69 full-time firefighters are basic emergency medical technicians.
“Our goal is to have every piece of apparatus have a paramedic on it,” he said.
It costs about $10,000 per employee to train. He said tuition plus the cost of covering the firefighter’s shift adds up so only a few can be trained each year.
He said it’s important for the firefighters to be trained to provide medical care because they are often the first responder to a call for help. He said the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad has excellent volunteers, but their location hampers them.
“They’re physically located in one building,” he said. “We’re strategically located in four places within the city.”
He said the quick response time by firefighters helps.
“In our business, seconds save lives,” he said.
Walker’s journey as a firefighter began in Augusta County, where he served for a little more than a year. He then moved to HFD, where he’s worked for the last seven years.
He spent about two years working to become a paramedic.
He completed two semesters at Lord Fairfax Community College before transferring to Piedmont Virginia Community College for the remaining two.
In addition to classroom hours, Walker spent dozens of hours on an ambulance tending to patients.
He said he loves what he does.
“It’s stressful at times, but it’s really rewarding to see you’re making a difference in a patient,” he said.