Interview with Jeremiah Sims and George Keeney
Jeremiah Sims grew up in Valdez. He took dual-credit classes in high school with George Keeney. George became a mentor of his (along with a few others). Jeremiah is currently in the millwright program and will be graduating this spring.
Hello, Jeremiah. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Right now, you are enrolled in PWSC’s millwright program, and you are also working towards becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). That is rather impressive.
PWSC: What sparked your interest in becoming an EMT? How did you get started?
Jeremiah: Well, firefighting and EMS have been in my family for a few generations, and it has been their nagging at me that I should follow in that direction. One thing that confirmed it was a couple of summers ago I was working at a summer camp, as a wrangler, and we were out on a pack trip when we had a can of chili explode on us. The can was set on the fire, and if everything had gone to plan, the side should have pop out when it was done. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to puncture the can to let the expanding gases escape and because of the pressure it exploded, which burned a couple of the kids. It was scary for some of us that have never been through something like that. We took care of the kids as best we could. That experience really confirmed to me that we need more medics here in Alaska, especially in the backcountry. I heard about PWSC’s EMT classes the year before, and when I heard Mr. Keeney was teaching an Emergency Trauma Technician (ETT) class at the high school, I decided to take that class.
PWSC: Clearly your experience and family helped direct you into the EMT program. How did you decide you wanted to become a millwright?
Jeremiah: I got on the train that wouldn’t stop and decided to stay and ride it out. I took Millwright I at Valdez High School and then applied for the Wheels of Learning Internship at Alyeska. I got it and decided I would continue pursuing my education as a millwright.
PWSC: As you work toward your millwright and EMT certifications, have you had anyone who has helped guide and mentor you along the way?
Jeremiah: Mr. Keeney, for one, has been there a lot. He has helped all of the students out that wanted help, and I was one of the students that wanted help. A couple of others that have been mentors to me are Mr. and Mrs. Norris, both teachers in the Valdez School District. Ann Norris teaches as Valdez High School, and her husband, Kipp Norris, is a teacher at Gilson Middle School.
PWSC: How has your mentor, Mr. Keeney, helped you be successful? What have you learned from him?
Jeremiah: Mr. Keeney has helped me with my work ethic and pushing through sticky situations that come up. When you are working in an EMS situation, you have to stay focused on the task at hand. You have to be aware of what is going on around you, but you also have to continue to care for the patient.
Mr. Keeney has been helping me study for the national EMT certification exam for the past couple of weeks, too.
PWSC: George, how did you meet Jeremiah?
George: Jeremiah came to my class. My rule is you’re going to learn what you want to learn. When you get out of my class, you’re going to be a good medic and hopefully know what to do in any emergency situation. We had a lot of good kids that wanted to actually do the class, get things out of it, and get certified. We had a few that were not taking it as seriously but wanted to get through the class. People like Jeremiah, who go above and beyond and want to be good medics, I take those students and spend that extra time with them to make sure they can be the best medics we have in town. Jeremiah can work on me any time.
PWSC: You have gotten to know Jeremiah these past two years. How are you helping him achieve his goals?
George: I am helping him study for the nationals right now. He comes up to the school two nights a week and we work together. When Jeremiah was working to take the State of Alaska EMT1 skills test, I helped him go over his skills prior to his test.
PWSC: Being a mentor is an important role to play in someone’s life. What drives you to want to work with students the way you do?
George: I always tell them when I start working with them, “If I drop and have a heart attack I want you be able to do a good job on me and by the time you finish this class, you’re going to be good.” The students all know that I am there for them, to help educate them. EMS has been a part of my life for years, and the fact that I can help somebody is really important to me. The first time I went to the scene of a car accident it was with my dad. The guy in the car was t-boned. It was a sports car, so he was really banged up. At the time, I was not certified in anything and not knowing what to do, just like Jeremiah said, I felt I should be able to do something. So I took some first aid classes and went on to get my EMT certifications in Alaska.
I have been an instructor for almost 30 years. I love teaching, especially the young ones. They are going to take it on and be our medics in the future. When they get that spark, soon they’re EMTs, paramedics, and nurses… so that’s nice seeing that. I have had a lot of them come back later on and say, ‘I sure appreciate how you helped me at the start of my training.’ And that’s really cool.