Left to right: Brookhaven College student Mason Atkins; Joel Hawkins, emergency medical services clinical coordinator; and student Lindsay Campbell

FORNEY, Texas — Mason Atkins faces possible dangers every time he performs his chosen profession. However, the Forney firefighter – who is studying to become a paramedic – believes that he has double the chance to save a life, treat a wound or halt an overdose.

Atkins, a resident of Crandall, is pursuing an associate degree in paramedicine at Brookhaven College. Saving lives, treating the injured and providing public service are part of his family’s legacy. "My father is a retired firefighter and my brother is a Lewisville firefighter, so I found myself going this way," Atkins said. "Being a paramedic makes me better trained for all kinds of accidents and medical emergencies."

Atkins hopes to graduate this year and prepare for certification by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Brookhaven College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, is the only DCCCD school that offers an associate degree in paramedicine through its emergency medical services program. Students are engaged in classroom courses as well as clinical assignments at area hospitals and other medical facilities.

Making a difference

Atkins, who earned his EMT certification at the Desoto Fire Academy, has been with Forney for two years, but becoming a paramedic was always on his list of things to accomplish.

“Two weeks before I was set to start paramedic school, I got a job offer from Forney,” Atkins said. “I ended up not going to paramedic school at that point, but I soon realized I needed to increase my knowledge, so I enrolled at Brookhaven.”

His work and training are his passion.

“Growing up and seeing my dad doing his job as a firefighter seemed normal to me, but it’s not normal at all. However, I think it helped me to know a little bit about what to look for, and that helped put some pieces together for me. I had all of the dots but not all of the lines (connected),” Atkins said.

He added, “I never feel unsafe doing my job. A big part of this job is seeing beyond what is basic. It’s looking into a microscope to see what’s going on and what you can do about each situation. It’s seeing what we can fix. Paramedics can do so much more.”

Exploring options

Most people confuse emergency medical technicians – or EMTs – with paramedics. Both are trained to provide patients with emergency care, but the similarities – training, salary and responsibilities – are different, according to Joel “Duck” Hawkins, clinical coordinator for the EMS/paramedic program at Brookhaven College.

EMTs, Hawkins said, provide CPR, bandaging and other care while paramedics are similar to “doctors in mobile units.”

Hawkins, a former Dallas firefighter and paramedic, explained, “Paramedics can call a hospital and ask for permission to perform certain functions. They carry drugs on the ambulance. It’s an intensive care unit on wheels.

“Successful paramedics know what team work is all about,” Hawkins added. “You can’t come in and say ‘this is my job description.’ You are part of a team. You have to do what needs to be done.” Additionally, quick reaction time, problem-solving skills and the ability to maintain calm during emergencies are crucial, he added.

Professionals in these careers can find the work stressful when dealing with life-or-death situations. But there is also great satisfaction in seeing a patient respond to treatment, Hawkins said.

“The care EMTs and paramedics provide is pretty much pre-hospital. Everybody can’t be a fireman or paramedic or an EMT. It’s not for everybody, but there’s something innate in them,” Hawkins said. “Some call it bravery. But the desire to help someone is more than bravery. It’s just something in you that makes you react – to think about the other person. You have to think before you give up yourself for others.”

Giving back

Lindsay Campbell’s journey to her new career as a paramedic began three years ago, literally inside an ambulance. But she wasn’t the caregiver; instead, she was the patient, following an accidental overdose of Xanax.

Her brush with death, she said, not only saved her life but also helped her to focus on a career that centered on caring for someone other than herself.

“The Coppell fire department got me to a hospital, and that’s where the miracle happened,” said Campbell, who is a personal trainer. “I would love to do for one family what was done for me. That would mean I’m doing what I’ve been called to do. I have a second chance. I was addicted to Xanax and it broke my parents to see me like this. But I’m so much better. I took my mess and made it my message.”

She added, “This incident entirely shaped my life. I love people. I always thought that certain people were called (to help others), and I really didn’t have that strong pull which everyone else seems to have until I nearly lost my life. The paramedics were amazing, and I admired how quickly they reacted and how well they did everything. I can’t wait to be as good as they are.”

“At Brookhaven, first responder skills are honed in the classroom as students build their confidence. An ambulance simulator in the classroom is designed to mimic real-life situations so that students can prepare for all types of medical emergencies,” Hawkins said. However, the program’s mandatory clinical rotations or hands-on training at hospitals or other medical facilities are a big part of student success,” he added.

The job outlook for both EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 15 percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The median income varies, but the annual wage for both EMTs and paramedics was $33,380 in 2017.

For more information about the emergency medical services program, contact Hawkins at or call him at 970-860-4568.