Nicole Pantaleo's career path was shaped by a scary situation and the kindness of those who came to the rescue.
"My sister was burned badly when she was little. She had second and third-degree burns over her entire left arm and half of her chest," said the recent Humber College graduate.
When the first responders showed up, they addressed the girl's wounds and transported her to the hospital. While the response was swift, it wasn't rushed, and paramedics answered all of Pantaleo's parents' questions and eased their fears.
"To this day, my parents speak so, so highly of the paramedics who helped her," said Pantaleo.
Years later, Pantaleo herself would be recognized as a leader among other first responders.
Pantaleo knew what she wanted to do, and by the time she visited an Open House at Humber College, she knew exactly how to get there.
"I'd always heard how great the professors are and that there's a big health sciences community at Humber."
She enrolled in the competitive Paramedic program and said the hardest part was getting in. While she acknowledges the rigorous curriculum, she felt prepared to face the program's challenges because of the support she received from her teachers and peers.
"The people in this program, all of us, found it hard, so we studied and ran scenarios together. The second-years have a support program where first-years book sessions with them and they help tutor you," said Pantaleo.
She excelled in the program but had other barriers to success. She worked to put herself through school, but it was still expensive, especially commuting between school and her placement. Fortunately, relief was on the way.
In 2020, Motorola Solutions Foundation awarded a grant to Humber College to support the Inclusivity Scholarships for First Responders which provided financial support to students from traditionally underrepresented groups who were pursuing a career as a paramedic, police officer, firefighter and other first responder careers. Some of them, including Pantaleo, graduated in the spring, ready to serve their communities in the middle of a pandemic.
"The scholarship was such a blessing. My money stores were running very low, so that helped a lot, "she said.
Some paramedic services charge for the testing required to join, and many of Pantaleo's prospective employers were far away. She felt the impact deeply, affecting both her fatigue level and her finances. Despite the difficulties, Pantaleo found full-time employment in the GTA.
Success stories like Pantaleo's are music to the ears of Karem Perez, executive director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation.
"Motorola Solutions is passionate about supporting first responders and providing pathways for traditionally underrepresented populations in public safety - like women and people of colour - to pursue careers in law enforcement, fire services, paramedic services and more," said Perez.
Pantaleo's contributions to the sector will allow even more young people to see themselves in their community's first responders.
Already, she's finding meaning in her work - and inspired to plan her next steps. Pantaleo is thinking about going back to school in the future to study community health. She wants to further understand populations as they age.
"They're talking now about creating palliative care teams at the services where I'm working and I would love to be part of that, helping people through that transition, making them comfortable and providing their family with resources. That would be super fulfilling," she said.
For more information about the Paramedic program, visit the program website.