Student Gabe Tolvanen trains with Sioux City Career Academy Instructor Anthony Gaul

Sioux City, Iowa -  East High School student Gabe Tolvanen recently learned there can be a thin line between life as a student and the responsibilities of an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR).

During the week, Gabe is a typical student, attending classes and working at Old Chicago. On the weekends, the aspiring Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and paramedic devotes his time to training with the South Sioux City Fire Department.

While it may sound like an unusual schedule for a high school student, Gabe is just one of hundreds of students in the Sioux City Career Academy who are discovering their passions through one-of-a-kind internship opportunities.

“The teachers make such a difference in the Career Academy. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing or have the experiences I’ve been able to have without Mr. (Anthony) Gaul,” says Gabe, who has taken multiple health and fire science courses through the Career Academy.

Those experiences helped prepare Gabe for an unexpected call one day at the South Sioux City fire station. Gabe was writing a paper for a class when the fire department was dispatched to help an individual with an illness. As a registered EMR, Gabe had been on calls before but none quite like the one he was about to respond to along with his team.  

As the team was placing the patient in the ambulance, the individual coded. Gabe’s EMR and CPR training kicked in, and he assisted his team in reviving the patient. Before they left the scene, Gabe’s team asked him to update the patient’s family who had just arrived. Because of his training, Gabe knew there was an increased mortality rate for patients in similar situations.

Despite the difficult task ahead of him, Gabe met with the patient’s family to update them on their loved one.

“Our captain always tells us to remember ‘if it’s not me, then who,’” says Gabe, who later learned the patient passed away at the hospital. “In that moment, it was an honor to be part of giving someone a chance.”

When Gabe returned to the fire station, the team cleaned up their equipment and, shortly thereafter, Gabe went back to writing his school paper. The dichotomy of the situations could not have been greater.

Gabe also texted his Career Academy teacher Anthony Gaul.  

“One of the first things he asked was if I was okay,” says Gabe as he reflects on the experience. “I didn’t fold under pressure. The things I learned in his class I used in a real-life experience.”

His mom told Gabe he was a hero. It’s a suggestion that Gabe, who plans to attend Western Iowa Tech Community College next year, shrugs off.

“This career isn’t for everyone. It’s important that you can handle stress, so you don’t fold. You also have to want to learn, because you are always training,” says Gabe. “It takes a lot of dedication, but it’s really cool to be able to help.”