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Though they were part of one of the smallest graduating classes of `94, the eight students who received certificates in the Salt Lake County Commission Chambers on Friday will likely have one of the biggest impacts on the community.

"They will be saving many lives over the span of their careers," Fire Chief Don Berry said of the first graduating class of the county's new Paramedic School. "And they will set the pace for those who follow."Receiving certificates were Robert A. Anderson, Brent L. Cannon, Michael B. Eldredge, E. Ross Fowlks, Brian Hansen, Thomas A. Turner, Michael Watson and Stuart M. Wallace.

The ceremony marked a turning point for the county fire department, implementing a plan to place paramedics in every firehouse in the county without hiring additional personnel or increasing the burden on taxpayers.

That became possible, according to Berry, because of the county's decision to train its own paramedics rather then sending candidates off to college.

Up until last year, paramedic candidates were enrolled in a special paramedic training program at Weber State University, where they were required to live on campus during the three most intensive months of schooling.

Because of the cost involved, inflexible scheduling and the hardship on trainees and their families, the county was unable to train as many paramedics as it needed, Berry explained.

Meanwhile, the county's growing population was putting an increasing strain on the depart- ment's paramedic services. Calls for paramedic help increased from 7,943 in 1987 to 14,317 in 1991, which was the year command officers recommended the change in the way paramedics are trained.

With the approval of the County Commission, the department organized its own paramedic school, developed a curriculum acceptable to the medical community and the state's certification system and recruited firefighters to blaze the trail.

Following a rigorous testing process that evaluated candidates' in a wide range of areas - including "caring skills" - the first class of eight firefighters was selected and the school opened for business in October 1993.

Assistant Chief Jeff Maxfield said the eight firefighters trained from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. four days a week for six months and regularly devoted "off-time" to additional study. They were required to undergo field training as well as classroom work.

Berry said the in-house schooling will have a significant impact on public health and safety because it will permit the department to cross-train enough firefighters to put paramedics in every fire engine company.