By Carlo Alcaraz
Special to The Communitarian
The gentle glow of a desk lamp casts shadows across the award certificates and medical equipment that sit within the office of Elaine Karr, director of Emergency Management Services education at Delaware County Community College.
The laughter of several people fills the hall just outside the spacious room, and the smell of warm soup permeates the air as lunch is served to the staff members. A man walks in wearing a Drexel University- branded fleece jacket over a navy “DCCC EMT Instructor” shirt – a symbol of his position within the college, and past accomplishments.
This man is Robert Hamilton, known to many of the staff and students as “Bubba.” His position as coordinator of paramedic education at DCCC is the latest role in his career that spans nearly 25 years.
From a flight paramedic to a 911 paramedic – a job he still actively participates in – Hamilton has dedicated the last 19 years of his life to educating future first-responders through the Emergency Management Services program at DCCC.
On Nov 21 Hamilton, 43, was named “Educatorofthe Year” by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Emergency Services.
The award, where nominees are exclusively chosen by their peers, was officially presented to Hamilton during a formal ceremony in which his “entire EMT family” was in attendance.
“I think I had the most support of anyone there,” says Hamilton. “It was the one thing that surprised me the most; that was the real award for me.”
Hamilton smiles as he reminisces about that day, claiming that it was “the highlight of [his] life.” He nods his head as he describes the scene, with “representatives from across the state” being present for the ceremony and his closest friends within the faculty joining him at the event.
Across the table, Elaine Karr, a longtime friend of Hamilton and director of EMS services at DCCC, offers her own explanation as to why he was selected for the honor. “Since he arrived here in 2014,” says Karr, “we’ve seen out our completion rates go through the roof. Bubba makes sure the job gets done right.”
Hamilton’s career as a first-responder began at age 13, as a junior member of his local volunteer fire department. During his tenure with the company, he was inspired by a fellow volunteer, an EMT named Mike Wilson whom Hamilton says he looked up to with great respect.
One day a young Hamilton experienced a seizure at the fire station, that sent him to the hospital, where he was later diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“Throughout the process, I just always remember Mike being there” he says, “and I realized afterwards that I wanted to switch from being a firefighter to an EMT.”
From there, Hamilton obtained his certification through the EMT program at DCCC while he was still a junior in high school.
According to Hamilton, he was one of the youngest certified EMTs in the state at only 19 years old. Over the years, his roles within the profession were varied he served onboard Crozier transport helicopters as a paramedic and worked alongside several critical-care units.
Eventually, his passion turned to teaching. “My love was always sharing the knowledge,” says Hamilton. “In order to teach, you have to be active [being a paramedic].”
Since becoming an instructor at the college where he first learned his lifesaving skills, Hamilton says he sought to produce the best EMTs and paramedics he possibly could, taught by the most specialized staff within their respective fields.
Later in the evening, Hamilton makes his way to “do a little housekeeping” with a class of Allied Health paramedics on the fourth floor of DCCC’s Academic Building.
The environment is relaxed as the small crowd of students shuffle into the spacious, sterile facility. They exchange jokes and laughter over their most recent shifts, while Hmilton prepares to review questions from their last meeting session.
His tone is firm, yet upbeat as he impresses upon the students that only three weeks remain until the completion of their program. Several of the students watch intently as he makes his way around
the room, answering questions from their latest assignment and quizzing them at random.
As the class progresses, Hamilton dims the lights and brings up a simulation on the large projection screen at the back of the room. The students are then challenged to name the condition of a patient’s heart based solely on the electrocardiogram readings that slowly pan across the screen.
Nearly every student answers correctly, and Hamilton smiles at their combined efforts to complete the quiz within the allotted time. As he finishes the last portion of his lecture, he turns the lesson over to a second instructor, who begins to load a PowerPoint presentation on toxicology.
As Hamilton makes his way out of the training facility, he bids the students “good
luck” and says he’ll be seeing them the following Thursday.
Although Hamilton teaches EMT training roughly six days of the week, he strives to work at least two 12-hour shifts as an on-call first responder.
His latest plans are to present a lecture on advanced cardiac life-support to third- year ER residents at Drexel University. Much of his pride, however, still lies in the current training program at DCCC, he says.
“I hope to grow the program with the people who are the best at what they do,” Hamilton adds. “To be able to take someone who barely knows how to turn on a heart monitor to being able to diagnose a heart condition at a glance it’s just amazing.”