Senior fires up career interests with Mill Valley Fire Department

Sabrina Dong

While most Redwood students spent the summer lounging on the beach, relaxing, or hanging out with friends, senior Vivienne Ward was getting fired up for school in a different way—through her internship at the Mill Valley Fire Department.

Ward received her internship through Jewish Family and Children’s Services, whose internship program pairs teens up with local nonprofit organizations in the area. The teens, who are paid through the Jewish Family and Children’s Center, gain experience helping out in the real world. Ward’s experience was unique because she had the opportunity to respond to real emergency response calls.

Her most interesting experience came on a call in which she was present at the rescue of a man in his early twenties who had fallen 600 feet down a Marin Headlands cliff.

Exploring her interest in emergency car, Vivienne Ward interned at the Mill Valley Fire Department through the organization Jewish Family and Children's Services, which provides opportunities to work with nonprofits and businesses,
Exploring her interest in emergency car, Vivienne Ward interned at the Mill Valley Fire Department through the organization Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which provides opportunities to work with nonprofits and businesses,

“This was even before I officially started. I had met with the Battalion Chief, Michael St. John, to discuss what I would be doing during the internship. He wanted to express that this wasn’t going to be easy and wanted to prepare me for what I would see,” Ward said. “We were headed to get lunch when we heard on the radio that a hiker had fallen, slipped down a cliff.”

The pair then drove from Mill Valley to the Headlands in response to the situation. The battalion chief let Ward control the radios on the drive to the call, making sure they stayed in contact with everyone already at the scene.

“We raced from Whole Foods in Mill Valley on the freeway, 100 miles per hour, going to this little tiny cliff at the Headlands,” Ward said. “There were a lot of people, a lot of manpower, and we had to try to think of the best way to get him out of that situation, whether that would be to airlift him out or to pull him back up or get him safely down.”

Ward observed and took notes on how the emergency response team decided, after careful planning, to attach a responder to a rope mechanism and lower the patient down to the beach below.

“I was happy that he made it out with minor injuries. It was very interesting to see how the rescue evolved,” Ward said.

Through the experience, Ward said she realized that emergency response was not what she thought it was. Instead of firefighters and medical attendants rushing rapidly to a scene, she realized it took a lot of time and careful planning to make sure that nobody got hurt in the process of a rescue.

“I was expecting for fire and emergency services to run in and do everything really really rapidly but you actually have to stop and plan it out and make sure everything is in order because the firefighters don’t want to risk having themselves injured while they save someone else,” Ward said.

During her internship, Ward also handled everything from maintenance of the fire trucks to taking notes on the various types of rescues and calls.

Firefighters help rescue man from cliff.
Firefighters help rescue man from cliff.

“There are certain things that the firefighters have to do depending on what day of their shift it is, so I was able to assist them in checking the engines, refilling the air tanks and responding to calls whenever the station got one,” Ward said. “They have a form they had to fill out after each call, so that usually ended up in my hands.”

Ward was also able to help with the medical side of emergency response, which she is very interested in. An aspiring ER physician, Ward would take trips with the ambulance workers and even perform some basic medical tests.

“When I was in the ambulance I was able to take blood pressure and pulse, which I learned through taking physiology at Redwood,” Ward said.  

Ward especially enjoyed the human communication and hands-on medical care part of her experience.

“I liked actually being able to help people because it was face to face with the patients who called the emergency services. They were in pain and needed to be transported to the hospital so they could get better care, and they depended on us to do that for them,” Ward said.