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EDUCATIONAL ENCOUNTER: This LifeFlight helicopter from Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital came to Slippery Rock University Monday for an emergency services training exercise with safety management majors.

Safety management major soars

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's safety management major has become as cutting-edge as the LifeFlight helicopter that landed on campus Monday for a training exercise with students. No wonder enrollment has doubled in 10 years and recently closed with 281 majors who could command salaries approaching five figures after graduation.

"It's not unheard of for our students to come out and start at anywhere between $40,000 and $90,000 a year," said Terry Lonchena, SRU instructor of safety management.

What sets SRU's program apart and gives graduates an employment edge is the extensive, hands-on training opportunities it provides. Lonchena, who graduated from SRU's program in 1995, arranged to bring a LifeFlight helicopter and its emergency crew to give safety majors exposure to sophisticated helicopter emergency operations.

The helicopter appeared like a balloon coming out of a cloud, descended and landed on Blasť Scarnati Marching Band Field. Students encircled the flight nurses like they were baseball stars, asking questions about how fast the helicopter flies, where crews respond to emergencies and whether family members fly onboard the helicopter during trauma cases.

Flight nurses Tom Bunney and Scott Garing said the Sikorsky S-76 Helicopter, designed for high-speed transport and based at the Butler County Airport, flies up to 168 miles per hour. It responds to emergencies within 130 miles of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Medical crews never transport friends of a patient or relatives, unless it is the parent of a child, because they need to give their attention to the injured.

The S-76 is the fastest aircraft of its kind in the region, said Bunney, who issued one warning to the students: "Don't ever approach an aircraft until it completely shuts down."

Eric Schmidt, spokesman for LifeFlight at Allegheny General Hospital, said education is part of its mission. "This was a little different in that the audience was college students," he said, "but many times LifeFlight responds directly to the scene of industrial or workplace accidents, where these particular students will be the future leaders of the company's safety culture."

"I thought it was amazing," said John Connor, a safety management major from Prospect. "We learned the broad spectrum of what LifeFlight can do, where the territory is and how dispatchers keep track of them. All of us were overwhelmed."

Connor, who works at a local restaurant, said he plans to pursue a career in restaurant inspection and safety. Safety management involves protecting and preserving people, property, productivity and the environment. Sustainable resource utilization is included as a core value in SRU's "Reaching for 2025 and Beyond" strategic plan.

"I love the program at SRU and hopefully my career will help society in the years to come, and hopefully it will help the economy," Connor said.

Cory Schiebel, a safety management major from McQueeney, Texas, said he came to SRU after researching safety programs nationwide.

"I had a great time with the LifeFlight crew, who have some pretty awesome jobs," he said. "Safety management interests me because of the job possibilities as well as traveling to different areas and learning about how to prevent workplace injuries. I am glad I chose safety. The staff does a great job making it easy and interesting."