Ashtyn Overton is 20 years old and already found her calling.
She graduated from American Medical Response’s Earn While You Learn program on March 12 and soon will run calls on some of the 16 ambulances serving the county via contract.
Years of influence from friends, family and loved ones played a part in this big decision, but Overton — a Townsend resident and 2019 Heritage High School graduate — said in an interview Monday that she decided to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) during the summer of 2020 when something bad happened on Little River.
Overton and two nurses, each a member of the Townsend Area Volunteer Fire Department (TAVFD), responded to a call at Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing. Someone was going through cardiac arrest there.
The small crew brought out the materials it needed to keep the patient stable before an ambulance arrived.
“The call had gone out and the nurses looked at me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to throw you into the fire on this one. They knew I had this fascination, so pushing me in this direction was a big deal for me,” Overton remembered.
The experience left a mark. Being part of TAVFD, she knew what emergency response was like, but this was up close and personal.
Mere weeks later, she was signed up for AMR’s intensive six-month Earn While You Learn program.
On March 12, Overton and about 40 other students were standing at a graduation ceremony in Knoxville, ready to begin their new careers as they received praise from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, AMR Vice President Brett Jovanovich and AMR Regional Director Josh Spencer.
As Overton looked into the crowd that day, she saw her classmates’ faces. “(I was) watching their realization hit: ‘Hey, we’re about to do this. This is about to be our lives,’” she said.
Then she saw her parents, smiling and proud their daughter had made it to this point in her journey of service.
Overton’s family are no strangers to service.
Both her parents — Larry and Leanne Overton — also are volunteers with TAVFD and have jobs serving their community: Larry Overton is the pastor of Townsend Bethel Baptist Church and Leanne Overton is a fifth grade teacher at Alcoa Intermediate School.
“When (Ashtyn) came to us and said ‘Hey I think this is what I want to do,’ we started helping her find a way to get there,” Larry Overton said, explaining faith plays a big part in how the family sees their individual callings.
“God values all people, so we should value all people no matter their background, no matter their situation,” the Townsend pastor said. “Because God holds hope and life for us, we try to provide that hope and care for the people in our community. … One of the things we see that Ashtyn is good at is being a comfort, having a manner that says, ‘I’m here, I care and now I’m skilled to do something.’”
A 17-year-old Ashtyn Overton started developing those skills at TAVFD, where Chief Don Stallions said volunteer staff continue to foster young talent.
“We have a very active junior firefighter program,” Stallions said. “That’s one of the great joys I have as a chief, seeing these young people come in and get a passion for serving their community. … TAVFD serves the community in a volunteer capacity but it also serves for the young adults to come in and decide ‘Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?’”
For Overton, the answer to that question was “yes:: She said she ultimately wants to get paramedic certification.
Her plan for a long-term career in EMS is good news for Blount County.
She was one of three of those 40 graduates set to join the Blount AMR outfit during a time when COVID-19 profoundly impacted the ambulance industry at every level. Local AMR leaders told The Daily Times in recent interviews they’re more eager than ever to attract young talent and mold a new generation of EMTs.
That’s a large part of what the Earn While You Learn program is trying to accomplish: It both pays students as they pursue EMT-basic licenses and sets them up for a two-year contract with the company.
Overton will join about 100 other AMR employees who serve in Blount, a county currently undergoing significant residential and industrial growth and an evolving need for EMS services.
Keenly aware of the local need for ambulance personnel, Overton encouraged female peers passionate about service to give it a try, despite the intimidation factor.
“For a girl who’s looking into EMS,” she said, “I would like for her to not be afraid to ask for help. It can be very intimidating especially for somewhere that is so male dominated. ... It’s OK to ask for help.”
For anyone wanting to explore EMS as a calling, Overton said it takes passion, strength and the ability to be a “people person,” but it’s worth it and the opportunities are numerous.
The next Knoxville-based Earn While You Learn class starts on May 24.