Respond Right EMS Academy – St. Peters

Even before they met in 1997 as paramedics at Christian Hospital in north St. Louis County, Donna Weiss and Toni Milan knew they wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. They continually demonstrated their people-oriented nature as first-responders to daily emergencies and frequent life-and-death situations.

several people observing men in blue providing breathing assistance to a dummy

Donna Weiss (left) conducts a tour of the Respond Right EMS Academy training facility in St. Peters for Gov. Jay Nixon (to Donna’s left). The governor was in St. Peters for a roundtable discussion on small-business issues with Weiss and several other area business owners.

“Being able to help people through traumatic events is what we’re trained to do, and it gives us the chance to serve in the best way we know how,” says Toni. “The only thing better is to teach others how to respond in an emergency.”

Teaching is now the avenue the spunky, energetic and dedicated duo pursues. They own and operate Respond Right EMS Academy in St. Charles County. Toni and Donna arrived at this stage in their lives through a series of steps.

They first established a training program in 2001 for members of the public who wanted to know more about CPR and the basics of emergency response. The two paramedics offered the program part time while they both continued working as full-time practitioners. Donna joined the Monarch Fire Protection District in Chesterfield in 2000. Toni began working with the Lincoln County Ambulance District in 2003.

ambulance with sign reading Respond Right EMS Academy on the side

As part of the training equipment inventory Respond Right maintains a fully functional state-of-the-art ambulance.

They both loved their field work, but they also loved training others. And they truly liked the idea of running their own business. By 2008 they were ready to devote their full time and attention to running an EMS training academy.

To get started Toni and Donna initially set up an office in the St. Charles Economic Development Center. Soon after arriving at the EDC they met with Ron Mueller, a counselor with the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers, who began guiding them through the many factors that go into establishing a business.

“Ron helped us look at a whole bunch of issues related to business startup,” says Donna.

woman on gurney is loaded onto ambulance by two men

Toni Milan is loaded into the ambulance as she plays the role of practice-victim on the gurney.

Their biggest hurdle was a lengthy list of sophisticated equipment for their training facility. That required an outlay of capital … which required a loan … which required a business plan.

“I remember Ron saying, ‘Write it (the business plan) to what your lender is looking for,” recalls Toni.

Their initial financial backing came from the St. Charles EDC’s revolving loan fund. It enabled them to secure the training equipment they needed to offer their first EMT class in May 2009.

As director of training, Donna and her 20-member staff offers a five-month class for emergency medical technicians and an eight-month class for paramedics. The courses-offered on an introductory basis and as refresher sessions-concentrate equally on academic concepts and clinical applications.

man placing neck stabilizer on another man

EMS students at Respond Right practice how to stabilize a patient who has incurred a neck injury.

Toni, director of operations, focuses on sales through the academy’s 5.11 Tactical Series gear and clothing lines, as well as specialty life-saving equipment such as the Philips HeartStart OnSite Defibrillator. She also oversees their original American Heart Association CPR training programs, which Respond Right continues to offer to companies and non-profit organizations.

Respond Right moved to a larger facility in November 2010 to accommodate its growth. If growth continues at its current pace, they’ll need to expand again soon, says Donna. In the meantime, Mueller continues to be a source of guidance for Toni and Donna as they expand their business.

“We talk with Ron frequently,” says Toni. “We’ve learned that business is ever-changing, and the environment is ever-changing. And if we’re not willing to adapt, our business won’t succeed.”

The paramedic profession, and some timely advice from the SBTDC, prepared these two heady business partners to respond right to change, and to quickly and constantly seek growth opportunities for their business.

Donna Weiss and Toni Milan explain how the MO SBTDC helped them open Respond Right EMS Academy in 2009 and later moved to a larger facility. (1 min)

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