144 attend SMC Health and Criminal Justice Day

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

Flight nurse Becky Lahti landed at Southwestern Michigan College aboard a MedFlight helicopter, capping a morning of workshops for 144 high school students from northern Indiana and southwest Michigan.

It was homecoming for Lahti because a two-year SMC degree in 2000 launched her career.

Lahti’s 12-hour flight nurse shifts twice a week leave her time to also be a Lakeland Regional Health System emergency room nurse.

Lahti previously was a pediatric transport nurse for Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Ind., for five years, 2004-09. From 2000-05, she was a Memorial ER nurse.

Crewmate Craig Fruth was an Ann Arbor computer programmer when he “stumbled into the field accidentally,” transitioning from firefighting into emergency medical services (EMS).

Lahti represents another aspect of where SMC’s nursing program can lead, including health information technology or medical assisting.

SMC’s Health and Criminal Justice Day March 16 did the same thing for students interested in law enforcement, from traditional crime scene investigation Dowagiac police demonstrated to more specialized possibilities, such as meeting Cass County’s conservation officers, Jeff Robinette and Tyler Cole, the Sheriff’s Office canine deputy, Nellie, and her handler, Tiffany Graves.

Nellie is assigned to the Missing Child Response Team and accompanies Graves into schools to promote safety.

Nellie’s nose sniffs in stereo, her nostrils separating breathing from scents.

She exhales through side slits, creating swirls of air which help summon odors.

Her powerful olfactory system takes up many times more relative brain area than in a human.

Graves obtained Nellie from the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction in Florida, which provides law enforcement bloodhounds at no cost.

“He was a 9-year-old boy abducted at gunpoint Sept. 11, 1995, sexually abused and shot when he tried to escape. His parents turned this horrible tragedy into something good,” Graves said.

“People think we’re park rangers or game wardens,” but conservation officers, or COs, “since the early ’70s have been required by state law to go through 22-week paramilitary recruit school (like attending boot camp and law school at the same time; Cole spent seven years in the military) and 18 weeks of field training in six-week blocks in three locations,” Robinette said.

COs look like green-uniformed state troopers, carrying weapons, writing traffic tickets and responding to homicides or fatal accidents in their take-home Chevy Silverado trucks.

“Our job is seasonally based,” said Robinette, who went to high school in Port Huron, attended community college for two years, then transferred to Michigan State University, where he decided to apply to the Department of Natural Resources.

“They hired 10 of us from 2,500 applicants,” Robinette said. “Officer Cole’s class started with 47and graduated 37. School going on right now started at 24 and is down to 19 — and I don’t think we’re projected to hire next year.”