Hundreds of family members and friends gathered to watch Tuesday as 30 recruits graduated from the Hall EMT Academy to become Kern County’s newest first responders.
But the absence of one man at the event appeared to be acutely felt.
"This is the first time we've done this without our boss, Harvey Hall," John Surface, Hall Ambulance vice president of corporate operations, told the gathering. "Forgive us if we get a little choked up."
Hall Ambulance founder Hall, who also served 16 years as Bakersfield mayor, died May 19, just weeks after stepping down as president of the company he founded in 1971.
Despite that bittersweet element, Tuesday's event, held at the Elks Lodge in downtown Bakersfield, was a joyful celebration of Hall's 34th graduating class, the largest graduating class in the program's 17-year history.
"My dad was a fireman for the city of Bakersfield," said EMT graduate Alana Moulton, 29, who earned the highest average in the class and the highest score on the final.
"I knew I wanted to be a first-responder, but I didn't want to run into a burning building," she said, smiling. "I wanted to work in the medical field, and this is emergency medicine at its best."
The process began in January with more than 1,000 applications, Surface said. That number was whittled down to 100 interviews, and ultimately, 30 grads.
The Hall EMT Academy — an EMT is an emergency medical technician — is not a school, but a pathway to starting an EMS career at Hall Ambulance Service, Hall spokesman Mark Corum said in a news release. As full-time employees, they learn everything they need to get started working in the Hall Ambulance 911 system.
During their 350 hours of training — done in partnership with Bakersfield College — the entire spectrum of emergency medical services is covered, including airway, respiration & ventilation; cardiology & resuscitation; trauma; and EMS operations. Upon completion of the coursework, they are prepared to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam.
Surface said they purposely scare the trainees. Not everyone is capable of doing this work, and the sooner they find out, the better.
"They deal with pain. They deal with death," Surface said of those who answer 911 calls for medical aid. "But they also deal with joy."
Richard Davis, an EMT for five years before going on to become a paramedic, and later still, a paramedic field supervisor, told the gathering he learned early on that Hall Ambulance was known to practice an "above-standard level of excellence."
They call it, "the Hall way," he said.
"Mr Hall has changed my life and the life of the EMS community."
As they walked one by one across the stage, paused for handshakes and a token of their hard work, the graduates seemed ready for the challenge set out before them — and for a chance at the kind of job that actually saves lives.
"I worked six years in the oilfield industry operating heavy machinery," said EMT graduate Steven Franks, 29. "I didn't really feel fulfilled doing that work.
"I want a career where I can help others."
He may have found it.