Transforming Experiences

Working in emergency medicine in Las Vegas offers plenty of exciting moments.

Just ask Matt Winburn.

As part of a local ambulance crew, Winburn has performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on gunshot victims and mingled with rock stars while staffing emergency stations at local events.

What’s most remarkable is that Winburn had accomplished all that — and then some — before he reached 18, thanks to a Boy Scouts of America program that places teen boys and girls with companies for career development.

Winburn belongs to Explorer Post 910, a group of high schoolers and college students learning the ropes of emergency medicine with ambulance company American Medical Response.

On top of weekly meetings at the company’s headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Winburn and his cohorts take a series of classes in first-response medicine. When they’re not studying, they’re assisting ambulance crews in the field. That’s how Winburn found himself two years ago working to revive a gunshot victim while two paramedics evaluated the patient’s condition.

“How many 16-year-olds get to do CPR on somebody in the real world?” asked Winburn, who’s now 18. “The Explorer Post has helped me get a taste of what emergency medicine is like.”

And that’s the point, said Ralph Thorne, south area field director of the Las Vegas Area Council of Boy Scouts of America and supervisor of the organization’s Learning for Life program, the umbrella initiative over Explorer posts.

“Explorer posts give youth a chance to learn skills and get involved in a profession. They have hands-on learning as to what the job is like, and it gives them a head start as far as getting into a career and helping them decide if that career is really what they want to do for a living,” Thorne said.

Nearly 600 local kids ages 14 to 21 participate in about 20 area Explorer posts. Roughly a third of those youngsters participate in the Metropolitan Police Department’s program, which includes posts inside all eight subcommands, as well as posts in the crime-scene investigation unit and in Laughlin. Darrin Densley, a Metro sergeant and an adviser to the Explorers, said additional posts will soon launch at the Clark County Detention Center and at Metro’s communications center.

Thorne said Explorer posts can serve any field. Fire departments, law firms, banks, social services agencies and even the Las Vegas Zoo sponsor Explorer posts.

The companies and organizations that host Explorer posts say they benefit from the groups as much as the teens do.

Densley, himself a former Metro Explorer, said the department’s Explorer posts provide an important recruiting tool. Students learn the basics on the inspections and patrol procedures they’ll review in detail at the Police Academy, and they go on ride-alongs twice a month.

“It’s a career-development program. We’re trying to recruit these young adults and bring them into the police department,” Densley said. “You get the benefit of getting good people who have experience and background. They’re not just coming into the job cold turkey.”

And even if participants opt for a different career, their time with Metro boosts their lifelong attitude toward police, Densley said.

Rebecca Ritz, adviser to American Medical Response’s Explorer post and an intermediate emergency medical technician with the company, said the post allows company officials to learn about possible future employees, and it enables them to impart corporate culture and medical know-how to young prospects.

Explorers take a class and obtain Clark County certification as first responders. That initial training prepares them for the next course — EMT Basic — and moves them toward eligibility to work at American Medical Response. Additional training requires students to familiarize themselves with local hospitals and different forms of emergency transport. Explorers even learn soft skills: meeting decorum and business procedures make the training agenda. They can also tap leadership opportunities and learn responsibility as officers in the post, and build rapport with potential coworkers.

“They’ve been exposed to our company from Day One,” Ritz said. “They’ve gotten to know not only the management but fellow and future employees. They know how the system works. They come into AMR with this fabulous base of knowledge, and they usually breeze through the hiring process and internships.”

Explorers can join ambulance ride-alongs after six months of attending at least 80 percent of the weekly meetings and maintaining a 2.75 grade point average. In the field, they’ve volunteered to serve on standby during Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest holiday event. They’ve experienced emergency helicopter flights into the wilderness to help injured all-terrain vehicle riders. And they once treated 14 fellow explorers for heat stress during a contest between police and fire posts.

Especially exciting for Winburn have been stints at House of Blues concerts and football games at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. At the Vegoose music festival, Winburn went backstage to assist a member of hard-rock band Queens of the Stone Age after the rocker hurt himself on some equipment.

The Boy Scouts charges a $10 annual fee to join an Explorer post, though some companies charge an additional $10 to $25 for uniforms.

For Winburn, who’s studying criminal justice at the College of Southern Nevada and hopes to parlay his Explorer Post experience into a career as a Special Weapons and Tactics medic, the cost is well worth it.

“It’s opened up so many doors that I know I never would have been able to walk through if I weren’t part of the program,” he said. “It’s definitely given me a huge leap on the competition as far as my education.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.

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