It happens more often than not. Events in our childhood come back to have a positive influence on us as we travel through life. This is certainly the case for Colleen Ford, Emergency Services, Firefighting and Criminal Justice teacher at River Bend Career and Technical Center in Bradford, VT.
Colleen grew up in central New Hampshire, in a family that loved dirt-track auto racing. They built various race cars over the years, and one of their favorite racetracks was Bear Ridge in Bradford. So at a very early age, Colleen became familiar with the Upper Valley of VT and NH. Another coincidence that explains why, career wise, she is where she is today is that not only were both her dad and grandfather First Responders in their communities, but also the primary driver of their race car also a First Responder. Learning about racing and understanding what it means to be a public servant to others were some of the lessons she learned and conversations she heard about at a very young age. As she grew up, it is no wonder that Colleen went on to become a First Responder in the same central NH town as her dad.
After high school, she went away to college and earned an associate’s degree in Business Management. With her emergency services background and her degree, she found herself teaching the “hands-on” scenarios, and tutoring students at Lakes Region Community College (LRCC) in Laconia, NH. She remembers working for countless hours with a student who had some learning disabilities. The student worked hard and never gave up. In the end, the student was still unable to pass the EMT certification test. A year later, however, this same student saved a toddler from drowning in a neighbor’s pool, the initial and only responder on the scene at that time. At that moment, Colleen knew that her work with helping students who needed a little extra help, really ignited a passion in her to help others gain the skills necessary to become First Responders.
After the job at LRCC ended, Colleen continued to work as an EMT and Firefighter in central NH. When the teaching position opened at River Bend four years ago, she couldn’t wait to apply. She knew she would be back in a geographic part of New England that she truly loved; and helping to teach others how to make a difference in someone else’s life was in her heart! Today, she truly loves what she does, and the hour commute from home doesn’t bother her in the least. The nice thing about her students, is that they truly want to be in her classroom, and that makes the teaching part fun and exciting. She loves the energy and enthusiasm of her students, and feels they are eager to learn all that they can.
In all of her work, there is one worry that she sees happening nationally, and this worry makes her so passionate about teaching her subject matter. The concern is that there are fewer and fewer individuals who have the time or interest to volunteer on behalf of others. The average age of firefighters and First Responders across the country is going up every year, with fewer and fewer younger people filling the vacancies. Colleen feels her program can make a difference with this national issue, and one of the most rewarding things for her is seeing the graduates go out the door, knowing that there is skilled help arriving in local communities at a critical time of need.
In addition to graduating from Colleen’s Criminal Justice Program, or her EMS/Firefighter Program, and volunteering locally, many of her students go on to further training, post-secondary education or paying careers in the field. While at River Bend, students can study and train to challenge the Vermont Firefighter exam; they also test for the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam; they complete a Criminal Justice college credit course from Eastern Maine Community College; and they complete an Introduction to Psychology class from Vermont Technical College. Student’s individual experiences in field studies lead them to careers in corrections, emergency dispatch and communications, or get them on track for one of the police academies at some point. Two-year colleges, such as NHTI in Concord, NH are very happy to receive Colleen’s students for a post-secondary education in related fields.
Colleen works cooperatively with many partners who have helped provide field trips, ride-a-long experiences, in-class trainings, summer opportunities, and shadow experiences during school, in the evening, or on weekends. These agencies include: Grafton County Department of Corrections, Orange County Sherriff’s Department, Upper Valley Ambulance, Bradford Fire Department, Bradford FAST Squad, Vermont State Police, Vermont Fish and Game, Haverhill, NH, Police Department, Hartford, VT, Police Department, Waterville Valley Ski Patrol, and the Grafton County Sherriff’s Department. She is extremely grateful for this outstanding cooperation!
When not teaching at River Bend, serving on a fire department or EMT team, Colleen loves to relax with her family, be outdoors, explore natural science, and pursue her passion for photography. Having recently graduated from the intensive teaching programs at Vermont Technical College, she is already assisting new teachers in adjusting to career and technical education. She is also a member of many of the various committees within the River Bend Center.
If there are two mottos near and dear to Colleen Ford’s heart, they would be the motto related to never giving up that says: “We do not stop when we are tired….We stop when the job is done”; and the letters that mean so much to many First Responders: F.A.M.I.L.Y., which stands for “Forget About Me, I Love You”.