OWOSSO — Fire Department Captain Steve Chapko, an Elsie native, thought life in the village was “relatively boring” and decided to go to school to become a paramedic after high school.
“The main thing I was interested in was music,” he said. “There were some great times, I think. But as far as school interests, that was the main one. From the fifth grade on up, all the way up through high school.”
A member of the band at Ovid-Elsie High School, Chapko said becoming an EMT offered more excitement than he otherwise expected.
“I knew several people on the Elsie Fire Department who worked out of there,” Chapko said. “A friend of mine’s dad, … they had a couple of emergency calls where my buddy went out and assisted them, just for manpower. That started piquing my interest. A previous employer of mine in Ovid had two firefighters who were on the fire department. It kind of escalated from there, and I got onto the volunteer service.”
Chapko began working for a private ambulance service in Mason in the early 1990s, and saw “lots of good stuff” during his time there and credits that period for valuable experience and training.
During the last 25 years, Chapko has trained with numerous fire departments, became certified as a hazardous materials technician, a certified fire instructor, and EMS instructor. He now oversees the Owosso Fire Deparment and EMT’s. The OFD has three lieutenants who work under Chapko, one for each shift.
“It’s huge for the adrenaline,” Chapko said, explaining the reasons he loves working in the field. “That is a lot of it. There is really no other job that compares to it. The social aspect of it, the community aspect of it. I don’t want to be cliched, but it’s a good feeling to know you’re doing some good for the community, stuff like that, and helping people out. That’s a big part of it.”
He added there is a sense of intensity when responding to a call, but he relies on training to keep his mind on what he’s doing and stay calm.
“It’s definitely intense. There’s a lot of things to think about, as far as on the way to that accident scene. There’s a lot of prep talk. What tools are we going to need? What kind of other hazards will there be? Fire or gas leak, or anything like that? How many patients? Do we need more help? Stuff like that. So there’s a whole gamut of stuff we run through to maintain safety, which is our number one priority. But for us, it’s ‘how bad is it?’ Sometimes you’ll hear the dispatcher with a little excitement in their voice. Pretty much what we’re thinking about is what do we have and how do we mitigate it and get those people help.”
He said it’s necessary for people who respond to calls to detach “on a personal level,” and concentrate on the situation.
“You have to kind of separate yourself at that point,” he said. “Because after that call, we’re going to come back and discuss it. On a scene, or there’s a fire, or extrication-type stuff, you’re in a work mode.”
Owosso Public Safety Director Kevin Lenkart said he’s glad Chapko is working in the community, and believes area residents are in good hands.
He also praised Chapko for his work in getting an EMT training program up and running with the Shiawassee Regional Educational Service District.
“Captain Chapko is a leader, 100 percent, and we’re lucky to have him,” Lenkart said. “Statewide, there’s a shortage of emergency management services professionals. With Steve involved in the program, it’s a good way to get EMT’s interested and get some young people who are already trained interested.”
The RESD is offering a cadet training program to high school seniors from area schools.
The program runs throughout the school year, and allows candidates to receive enough training to take the test for the national registry of emergency medical technicians certifications test (NREMT), which they are permitted to take at the end of the program.
Interested students can contact Sharon Ganssley with the RESD, or ask their guidance counselor about the program.