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When emergencies happen, seconds count and soon, Morenci will have a contingent of extra helpers who could make the difference between life and death.

The Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office have teamed up to start the GEAR Up program. During an occasional 55-minute class, volunteer instructors/first responders will teach Morenci High School freshmen CPR and light first aid. They’ll also introduce them to such concepts as disaster preparedness, fire safety and suppression, basic search and rescue, home planning, disaster preparedness and triage.

Loni Penry, an evidence technician with the sheriff’s office, said she was inspired to investigate what sorts of programs are available to students after learning her niece, who lives out-of-state, will graduate just one year shy of a nursing degree.

She and Ashley Menges of the cooperative extension officer have based GEAR Up, at least in part, on the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative.

Sheriff Tim Sumner loved the idea, as did Morenci Unified School District Superintendent David Woodall and Morenci High School Principal Don Goodman.

“Usually when we’re showing up whether it be at a house fire or a car accident, whether the situation is, people are usually already on scene doing something, trying to help, so we’re trying to empower more people so they know what to do at least,” said Sheriff Tim Sumner.

Menges and Penry are in the process of finding volunteer teachers and Goodman is working to find ways to fit it into the freshmen’s curriculum. In addition, Penry is hoping to find grant funding to pay for disaster preparation backpacks.

He, Penry and his deputies already visit Greenlee County schools often for career days and to teach students about drug and alcohol awareness, search and seizure laws and domestic violence, Sumner said.

Too often people don’t give teenagers enough credit, despite the fact there were older teens fighting during World War II, Penry said.

She’s convinced they will do well once they are trained and given some responsibility.

There are only so many deputies in Greenlee County and they can find themselves overwhelmed whether roads are flooded or there’s a traffic accident, she said.

“But if they’ve worked side-by-side with these kids and know what these kids can handle and the kids come up and say ‘Hey, how can we help?’ then somebody can look at them and say ‘OK, I want you over there,” Penry said.

Even if there’s an active shooter situation, kids trained in first aid and CPR could lend assistance while deputies are working to apprehend the shooter, she said.

Goodman, too, is excited about the program.

“This will be a great opportunity for kids to be more prepared,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t push kids very much and this will be an opportunity to give them real responsibility and step up when people are in need.”

Eventually, Penry said she’d like to offer the same courses to adults and kids in Duncan.

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