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STCC Expands Options for EMT Course

Life-saving Knowledge

Barbara Pummell says students who take STCC’s EMT Basics course need to be prepared to put in a lot of work outside the classroom.

Barbara Pummell says students who take STCC’s EMT Basics course need to be prepared to put in a lot of work outside the classroom.

If a medical crisis occurs when Joan Osana is nearby, he feels confident that he can take control of the situation until help arrives.

The 25-year-old father of two just completed an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Basics course at Springfield Technical Community College, and although it involved a tremendous amount of study, he is happy he signed up for it.

“I gained a lot of knowledge in a short period of time that will help me throughout my entire life. I would advise others to take the course,” Osana said, adding that he hopes to become a firefighter, and gaining the basic certification in EMT is a stepping stone towards that goal.

Holyoke resident Daniel Rivera also takes pride in the knowledge and skills he mastered during the EMT course that ended a few weeks ago. “I want to save lives and assist people in any way that I can so I can make a difference in my community,” said the 30-year-old father.

His ultimate goals are to become a paramedic, which would fulfill a dream, then study fire science and become a firefighter.

Rivera told BusinessWest he worked in the masonry field until he saved up enough money to buy a home and take the course. “It was my goal for many years, but in the past I couldn’t take time off from work for it. Now, I can focus on what I am learning.”

The 170-hour class takes place in four-hour sessions, either three days or three nights a week, and is popular, but very difficult as it covers a great deal of medical information taught in the classroom as well as in hands-on, simulated settings.

In the past, it was a non-credit offering from the Department of Continuing Education’s Workforce Development Program and could not be applied toward a college degree. But that is about to change: STCC recently announced EMT Basics will be offered next fall as a seven-credit course that can be applied toward an associate degree in fire protection and safety technology or another field of study, although students may still choose the non-credit option.

Christopher Scott said STCC made the decision so more students can afford the course, which costs $1,400 without financial aid and will now number among classes that could qualify for a federal loan or Pell grant. The interim dean of the School of Health and Patient Simulation added that STCC also wanted to help its community partners, who have said there is a real need for EMTs in the Pioneer Valley.

The course credits will also be transferable next fall to other degree programs, including Greenfield Community College’s paramedic certificate course or associate degree in fire science technology, or the bachelor’s-degree program in emergency medical service at Springfield College.

Although EMT Basics is an entry-level course, Scott said, it’s a building block; the next level is Advanced EMT, followed by EMT Paramedic, which is a two-year course.

Barbara Pummell of Human Services Training Consultants Inc. in West Springfield has taught the course for 30 years and told HCN that students who complete it become eligible to take a practical written exam and become registered, then can apply to the state for licensure, which allows them to work for a municipal or private ambulance service. Licensure also raises their status under Civil Service and gives job candidates a better chance at being hired if they want to become a firefighter.

Challenging Curriculum

Pummell’s students come from many walks of life and have included a flight nurse for an ambulance service, physical therapists, physician’s assistants, nurses, and people in non-medical occupations. Although the majority live locally, others have come from as far away as Saudi Arabia or the Dominican Republic.

However, some students aren’t fully prepared for the amount of study the course demands due to the amount of material it covers.

Medical problems addressed include allergic reactions, respiratory issues, wound care, fractures, cardiac problems, how to immobilize a patient after a serious motor-vehicle accident, pediatric care, care for the elderly, and care for people with special needs, which can include autism, someone on a ventilator, a paralyzed individual, or a person with a feeding tube or tracheostomy tube.

“Students also learn about the legal aspects of the profession and how their actions affect them as well as the patients they deal with,” Pummell said.

Lessons are taught about how to deal with someone with a communicable disease such as meningitis, the flu, or pneumonia, and what they need to wear as protection — at minimum, gloves and a mask. “Students are taught to ask questions before they touch a patient,” the instructor noted.

However, the first thing they learn is cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and each student must pass a practical exam and short written test and become certified by American Heart Assoc. before they can continue their coursework.

The next topic taught deals with the use of oxygen and other delivery devices, as well as how to splint arms and legs.

“As students became proficient in these skills, we advance to overall scenarios,” Pummell explained, adding that they learn to prioritize needs.

For example, if a woman falls down a flight of stairs and is having difficulty breathing, that must be addressed before injuries are taken into consideration.

Participants also learn how to respond to childbirth, which is taught not only in the classroom, but with a childbirth mannequin that can simulate different situations such as a breech birth or when an umbilical cord comes out before the baby, which can be very dangerous.

The course also takes life-threatening situations into account, such as when an ambulance is called to a scene where bullets are flying. Pummell said the ambulance must be parked a short distance away from the high-risk area until police arrive and deem it safe for the EMT team to enter.

“It’s heartrending when you can’t help someone who is ill or injured, but it’s critical to stay away until it’s safe,” she said, adding that she knows an EMT in Springfield who has experienced bullets flying by his head. “EMTs go in as a team of two, and if anything happens to their partner, their focus switches to that person.”

Scene safety also comes into play during a motor-vehicle accident. Firefighters have to be called if someone needs to be extricated from their vehicle, and a police presence is also critical for safety.

Another part of the curriculum deals with hazardous materials; EMTs can’t take care of a person until they are decontaminated, which is usually done by firefighters.

Pediatrics also comprises a large area of study, as caring for an adult or older adolescent is markedly different than helping an infant or toddler.

“Children’s bodies aren’t well-formed until they are 18. Their bones aren’t hard, and their muscles are not fully developed, so they are more susceptible to injury,” Pummell told BusinessWest, noting that small differences can be critical. For example, a child’s tongue takes up more room in their mouth than an adult’s tongue, which means they are more likely to choke if they lose consciousness as it can slide to the back of the throat and block the airway.

The course is rigorous, and students must be prepared to work hard inside and outside of the classroom, as in addition to time spent at STCC they must accumulate 128 hours of online work that includes exercises and quizzes designed to reinforce what they learn in textbooks and during the hands-on portion of the class.

Students also learn what medications they are allowed to administer. “If they are working for an ambulance service, they can assist a patient with an inhaler, use an EpiPen if the person shows signs or symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction, or administer Narcan,” Pummell said, explaining that the latter is a nasal spray used when a opiate overdose is known or suspected.

Other procedures are taught in more advanced courses, but the basic class teaches them how to discern whether they need to call a paramedic who can intercept the ambulance or meet them at the scene.

Eye to the Future

Scott said the course is ideal for people interested in the medical field as it gives them real insights into what will be involved.

“EMT Basics provides students with an entry-level opportunity that allows them to explore the healthcare field experience as well as patient care, and gives them the ability to advance either in a degree program or on the career ladder,” he said.

Rivera said the knowledge he gained has tremendous value. “It provides you with a lot of information that sticks with you. I really enjoyed the hands-on learning and feel confident that I can administer CPR and do a patient assessment.”

Which will fulfill his desire — and the wishes of other students seeking careers that will make a difference in their own lives, as well as the lives of others.

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