There are no firefighters in Joel Higuchi’s family and when he enrolled at Macomb right after high school, he thought he would become an electrical engineer. A grateful community is benefitting today because he decided otherwise.
“I was good in math and science, but the thought of sitting in a cubicle all day wasn’t appealing,” says Higuchi, who has been with the Roseville Fire Department since 2002. “In revaluating what I wanted to do with my life, I realized that what you do every day as a paramedic/firefighter has an immediate impact.”
A Chippewa Valley High School graduate, Higuchi followed up his Associate of Applied Science Degree in EMT: Paramedic/Firefighter from Macomb with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Paramedic Technologies from Sienna Heights University. He now teaches part-time in Macomb’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Technology program and is taking the necessary training to teach online, another aspect of his life that has been challenged by COVID-19.
“The EMS dynamic has changed drastically,” relates Higuchi. “Prior to the pandemic, our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) was a set of gloves. Now, it takes several minutes to get on an isolation gown, booties, respirator, goggles, head cover and two pairs of gloves prior to leaving the station for an emergency call. We are getting quicker at it though.”
The Roseville Fire Department consists of two stations, which (pre-pandemic) respond to over 8,000 EMS and fire calls annually. Higuchi, like most paramedic/firefighters, works a 24-hour shift with five days on/four days off. Everyone on duty, he notes, “learns how to fall asleep and wake up very quickly.” COVID-19, however, has impacted how this normally close-knit crew interrelates in their close living quarters.
“It is not uncommon to see firefighters wearing masks around the station,” says Higuchi, “and not sitting together as a family.”
Regarding his instructors at Macomb as “extremely influential role models,” Higuchi hopes to follow in their footsteps by “helping students realize their dreams.” Teaching at Macomb since 2003, he finds himself working with more and more of those he has taught.
“I look out at each new class and know I may be looking at a future partner,” says Higuchi. “The perseverance they have shown completing their classes online this year tells me they are ready for the job.”
In the beginning of the pandemic, Roseville’s fire chief and other administrative personnel, says Higuchi, made sure first responders had the PPE they needed to reduce their risk in the field or, worse yet, of bringing the virus home to their families. For Higuchi, that family includes wife Karen and sons Scott, 12, and Matthew, 10. With a template provided by L’Anse Creuse Schools, the couple have homeschooled their sons during the stay-at-home order with mom, a pre-school teacher, taking on English and social science courses, while Dad handles the math and science.
“They are great kids and handling the change well. Of course, they are bummed they can’t see their friends or go anywhere, but they understand,” says Higuchi. “We normally live such a busy life that, in an odd way, it has been nice to spend so much time together.”