From the Firehouse to the Schoolhouse

From the Firehouse to the Schoolhouse

For Marco Johnson, the emotional rigors of being a Los Angeles firefighter and paramedic were overwhelming. He had witnessed death far too oftenmuch of it preventable. So he decided to find a different way to save lives.

As the founder and owner of Lancaster, California-based Antelope Valley Medical College, Johnson, 37, is teaching individuals the skills they need to save lives. The school, now in its fifth year, offers extensive classes and vocational training in various aspects of healthcare. Revenues in 1998the schools first full year of operationtotaled a meager $6,000. By 2001 the venture generated some $600,000 and $1 million is expected for 2002.

The facility, with 10 full-time teachers, provides cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) training and certification, and re-certification to individuals and businesses throughout the state of California. Corporate clients include Boeing Co., Burger King, nearby Antelope Valley Hospital, and employees of the city of Lancaster, California. The U.S. Department of Education recently accredited the school, which has 250 students, allowing eligible students to receive government financial aid.

Fees for the training programs vary depending on the course: a three-month medical billing class is around $3,000; a 10-week EMT program, with re-certification, totals around $1,000; and a one-day CPR and first-aid course, with re-certification, runs about $45.

Johnsons road to entrepreneurship was a winding one. He earned a bachelors degree in political science and marketing at the University of Hawaii, where he was a star wide receiver for the university team, the Warriors. After graduation, the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) drafted Johnson in the 10th round of the 1988 NFL draft. He played three seasons on special teams for the Oilers and the Los Angeles Rams before trading in his football for a fire hose.

Throughout his career, Johnson says he has witnessed hundreds of unnecessary civilian causalities due to a lack of civilian CPR and first-aid training. The most disturbing event for him occurred on Christmas Eve 1996. Johnson and his colleagues were battling a raging blaze in Los Angeles; a single mother and her three children were trapped inside a burning apartment building. While firefighters were successful in rescuing the family from the inferno, two of the children suffered respiratory failure and died before firefighters or emergency personnel could save them. The third child died in the rescue unit.

Johnson believes that if onlookers and passers-by had been trained in even the most basic methods of CPR and emergency assistance, one or perhaps all of the children would have survived. Instead, the lives of three innocent children expired and a mother lost her family, he says. I will never forget that night and seeing the bodies of those children.

It was this tragic event that prompted him to start the school, initially as a side business with his wife, Sandra, helping out. My wife would schedule appointments and I would teach classes between shifts and on my days off from the fire department, he says. Using borrowed mannequins, Johnson held free CPR and first-aid