Richmond Fire Department teams up with VCU to help overcome language barriers – VCU News


It’s the type of scenario Richmond Fire Department Battalion Chief Bailey Martin hopes to rectify by enlisting the help of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Community Action Council and Anita Nadal, board member, assistant professor at the VCU School of World Studies and faculty member for community engagement in the College of Humanities and Humanities.

“EMS is a big part of our workload. We receive 35,000 calls a year, the majority of which are medical emergencies. It’s very difficult if people don’t speak English, Martin said. “We try to address that in our recruitment of firefighters. We try to have bilingual candidates, but it’s almost impossible.

Learn key phrases

VCU steps in to help firefighters converse with the Latino population. Nadal and one of his students, Abigail Andrade, recently hosted a Zoom session with Jonathan Clarke, a Richmond firefighter and Community Action Council member, to help him with Spanish phrases he can use to respond to a call.

“The fire department wants to include the different cultures in the city,” Clarke said.

Andrade, a rising fourth-year student majoring in biology, physics, and Spanish who volunteers as an EMT in Chesterfield County and a nurse at the CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, has experienced the challenges that cultural and language barriers can create.

“Anita [Nadal] contacted me to ask what I thought of helping out at the Richmond Fire Department and told him about my experiences with Spanish-speaking patients,” Andrade said. “I taught Jonathan [Clarke] a few phrases in Spanish to use with any Spanish-speaking person he meets at work. I want to continue working with firefighters.

Battalion Chief Bailey Martin of the Richmond Fire Department speaks with Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., associate dean for equity and community partnerships at the College of Humanities, and Anita Nadal, assistant professor at the School of World Studies. (Alexis Finc, College of Humanities)

She thinks it’s important for students to help the community.

“We have the opportunity to share our knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others.

“In return, we learn so much from others and gain new perspectives on life. Students gain a deeper sense of empathy and gratitude by helping the community. Through volunteering, I broadened my horizons and found my passion in helping others,” she said.

Nadal has taught Richmond firefighters Spanish in the past, Martin said.

“We think it’s time to start over. We don’t need them to be fluent in Spanish, but we want to focus on key job-specific phrases,” Martin said. “Questions like, ‘Who is hurt?’ ‘Is everyone out of the house?’

Nadal, who has had a working relationship with the Richmond Fire Department since 2006, believes she and her students can help the department in a variety of ways.

“We can provide a diverse student body that is bilingual and from diverse backgrounds, which contributes to cultural competence,” she said. “Some students are EMT certified, which also helps.”

Understand the diversity of the Latino community

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Latinos make up 7.1% of the city’s population, which at the census was 226,610. The percentage is expected to continue to rise.

When Nadal spoke at the firefighters’ diversity and equity meeting last fall, she talked about the importance of knowing some basic Spanish and understanding that Latinos come from different backgrounds and groups. different ethnicities.

“We are not a homogeneous race. We each have our own culture and our own traditions – Mexican, Peruvian, Cuban, etc. “, she said.

Martin’s goal of recruiting bilingual firefighters was reinforced when the fire department helped with a vaccination clinic in town. Richmond firefighter Cody Oliver, who speaks Spanish, was on hand for the event.

“We brought in some Spanish speakers, and when they saw Cody [Oliver] spoke Spanish, everyone started coming to him for help. It really opened my eyes to how great a value it would be. I wondered how many needs had gone unmet because of this barrier,” Martin said. “I want to fix this.”

Oliver, who graduated from VCU with a bachelor’s degree in education in 2008 and a master’s degree in elementary education in 2011, is a member of the Community Action Council. He taught Spanish to Nadal after graduating.

“I was working with a Latino population. I had learned Spanish while traveling, but I wanted to speak it more fluently. I took the courses at VCU for my personal development,” he said.

It helps to have someone who speaks Spanish when making a medical or fire emergency call, because “it calms the situation down. You can find out their symptoms and medical history,” he said. “It can help people feel more comfortable around people in uniform.”

It’s important to have someone who can explain what’s going on, he added.

A woman on the left standing next to a man on her right
Cody Oliver, a VCU alumnus and Richmond firefighter, at work. (Alexis Finc, College of Humanities)

“When no one speaks the language, a family member can be used as an interpreter. You don’t know if this person speaks or knows medical English or Spanish. You can’t just rely on one family member.

Going to a diverse school like VCU helped him, Oliver said.

“It makes me proud to graduate from VCU. It’s good to see how much the university cares and wants to be involved in the community. It creates more opportunities for VCU students,” a- he said, “Professor Nadal is great at connecting students with opportunities.”

Battalion Chief Martin wants to continue partnering with the university to see how the two entities can work together to engage the community.

“I look forward to the ideas they have and how we can bring them to fruition,” he said. “We want to have an impact and help people. It takes teamwork. We want to be part of this effort.


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