Ware, MA – For many, the sound of the ambulance siren is a warning that something is wrong. At the same time, the sound of sirens can be comforting because it means help is on the way.
For Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who play a vital role in the delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical care in chaotic and sometimes dangerous situations, a siren is just one component of a much larger system that signifies the training, communication and coordination that has taken place behind the scenes.
“Pre-hospital Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is the first and essential component of a comprehensive health care system,” said Dr. Richard Gerstein, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital. But according to a 2010 study by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many rural towns face the challenges of recruiting and/or retaining EMS volunteers. A few reasons are the small population base, few employment options requiring that residents work out-of-town and competing time demands for volunteers.
“In many areas where the number of emergency calls is too small to support a full-time paid EMS service, volunteers are the mainstay of pre-hospital emergency care,” said Gerstein. For years our Emergency Department physicians have conducted continuing education classes to area EMTs and Paramedics. The classes offered at the hospital fill a requirement set by the Department of Public Health Office of Emergency Medical Services (DPH, OEMS) for EMS providers to maintain certification,” notes Dr. Gerstein. “When we learned that many area communities struggled with a shortage of EMTs, we moved to meet these critical unmet needs by partnering with Donald and Carol Benoit of Quality EMS Educators of Worcester to offer the EMT Basic Certification training right at the hospital. It will be another year filled with accomplishments for many students as we offer our EMT training program for the fourth year,” notes Dr. Gerstein.
Four evenings a week the hospital cafeteria becomes a classroom where Basic Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic education is conducted. Both Merrill and Jacob Thompson are among the close to 100 area community members that have taken the Emergency Medical Technician Training Program at the hospital in Ware.
Merrill Thompson of Warren completed the EMT Basic Class in 2009. Now each night before he goes to sleep he is sure that his turnout cloths are ready for an emergency call as he sleeps with his fire department issued pager on his nightstand. Thompson, an area manager for a national IT company, says he relaxes from his work responsibilities by volunteering in the evening for the Ambulance Squad and Fire Department in the town of Warren where he has lived for the past 20 years. “I have always wanted to volunteer for the local fire department and it wasn’t until I learned about the EMT training class that was to be held at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital that I was able to realize a lifelong goal of becoming an EMT and Firefighter.” Now Thompson has the training necessary to not only realize his dream but also give back to the town he lives in.
The story doesn’t end there; Thompson’s son Jacob, a senior at Quabaog Regional High School (QRHS) is taking the EMT Class at BMLH this year. A busy senior and student athlete, Jacob somehow manages to juggle the workload of high school studies and attend the EMT Basic Training Program held every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the hospital. As if the academic challenges of high school and the EMT class weren’t enough, Jacob is also a member of the QRHS football team. “My Dad inspired me to become an EMT,” said Jacob. “Fortunately the games and practice schedules were opposite the EMT Class meeting times and I was able to fit it all in.” For Jacob the EMT class is the first step to securing his future. He has already signed up for a January 2012 District 7 Fire Fighting class. When he graduates from high school in June of 2012, Jacob plans to pursue a career in Criminal Justice and he will do so with quite a bit experience to add to his college application.
According to Fire Chief James Dolan of the Warren Fire Department, the ongoing educational programs provide a great benefit and have helped to bolster the town’s volunteer ambulance squad.
In the neighboring town of West Brookfield, Fire Chief Paul Lupacchino commends the 15 new active and committed community members that completed the EMT training program. “Though the Ambulance squad roster has greatly increased there continues to be a need for more community members to take the training and volunteer for their local fire and rescue squad; but the training program isn’t for everyone,” said Chief Lupacchino. EMS candidates are required to complete the 150 hour training program and spend additional personal time studying and practicing emergency medial care skills. After completing the classroom and practical training, students must pass the MDH OEMS written and skills certifying examination.
In addition to sponsoring the fourth EMT Basic training program, in January of 2011 the hospital also sponsored the first Paramedic training program. The 13 candidates will soon leave the hospital based classroom where they have been for the past year to begin their clinical rotations in ambulances, hospital emergency rooms, cardiac catheterization labs and several other clinical related settings before taking the state certification examination.
“There are few areas more important to a community than emergency medical services,” said Mark Tuttle, RN, Manager of Emergency Services at BMLH. “We are proud to provide this training at both the Basic and Paramedic level and also offer continuing education so EMS providers can maintain certification. Prior to the development of these programs, individuals interested in becoming an EMT had limited local opportunities. High gas prices put an additional financial strain on travel to training programs held in Springfield or Worcester for anyone interested in becoming an EMT,” notes Tuttle. “By offering this education locally we have removed some of the obstacles to pre-hospital care and are proud of the positive impact it has had in many of our communities.”
Many may only call for an ambulance once in their life time, but if and when emergency medical care is needed, they are likely to run into a Merrill or Jacob Thompson, local caring and courageous community heroes.
Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, a member of Baystate Health, is a 25 bed community-based hospital serving the residents of Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester Counties. Baystate Mary Lane Hospital is ranked in the top 10% nationally for patient satisfaction in overall quality for emergency services and medical/surgical care. The hospital offers a wide spectrum of services, including 24 hour emergency care, intensive care, inpatient and outpatient surgical care, orthopedics and cancer services through the Baystate Regional Cancer Program. For more information visit www.baystatehealth.org/bmlh.