EMS from a Trainee’s Point of View

Unit 33 (7)Local EMT Trainees Reach Halfway Mark In Class

Back on August 19th, a group of seven Richland Center residents met in Readstown to begin an 18-week journey that would test their courage, perseverance, patience, and dedication. Sponsored by the Richland County Ambulance made possible by special training grants, this year’s group of EMT Trainees includes Richard Brown, Amber Burch, Julie Hendricks, Dolan Hostetler, Cody Layer, Katie Spry, and Connie Studnicka. Now halfway through the course to become Emergency Medical Technician – Basics, these students reflect on what they’ve learned and recognize the amount of work left on the road to an EMT license.

Though the group is united under that common goal, the students come from a variety of backgrounds. Katie Spry is a recent high school graduate and employee at Ed’s Family Foods. Spry said she had always desired a career that would be fast paced and that would benefit humanity in some way. “I pictured myself undertaking an occupation involving international travels, such as bringing clean water to children in Africa. However, I realized I don’t need to go any farther than my own community to help people in a practical way.” Amber Burch, formerly of Hillsboro now employed at Neighborhood Housing Services, grew up with family in emergency services, which led her to pursuing being an EMT. Connie Studnicka decided to take the EMT course after stumbling upon a number of incidents requiring EMS services and one pointed question last spring by fellow classmate Richard Brown, “Have you ever thought of becoming an EMT?” Another classmate, Cody Layer, is an active member of the Richland Center Fire Department.

With the variety of backgrounds impacting their expectations, each seems to have been surprised in one way or another with the EMS field. “I was surprised at how much showing compassion really affects this job,” said Layer. Spry reflected on how her perceptions have changed since she joined the Richland County Ambulance: “Before I joined, I had this rather dramatic idea of what it meant to become an EMT. I imagined the role of an EMT as basically being a superhero. The pager going off would be no different than the Bat-signal in the sky. After riding along with the squad, I still view those in the emergency medical field as superheroes, though, not all calls are intense or life-threatening. To be an EMT takes a bit more than the ability to hold down your cookies at the sight of blood or needles. A great deal of dedication is needed from individuals to serve our community in this way. Cooperation and teamwork are necessities when facing such serious and stressful situations. I’ve come to realize our EMTs get little credit for what they do.” Indeed, there is a special team within the Richland Center community, responding at the drop of a hat to help their neighbors, as Burch mentioned: “There’s this group of people who, despite their busy schedules or plans for their much earned day-off, when that pager goes off, they drop everything and run to the aid of whoever called. It might be someone they’ve never met, their childhood enemy’s mom, or their best friend’s son. Despite the tragedies and difficulties they’ve faced, they continue to respond – whether they just fell asleep or are being asked to leave the dinner table. It’s something so inexplicably selfless.”

These seven students received their Training Center Training Permits last month and have had the opportunity to ride along and assist on EMS calls under supervision of their preceptor, one of only a handful of identified EMS veterans with Richland County Ambulance. While the Ambulance has struggled with numbers to respond to the nearly 1,000 calls annually in this active community, it costs more than $1,000 for an individual to take the Emergency Medical Technician – Basic class, and with fewer employers allowing their employees to leave and respond to calls during the workday, the amount of interested volunteers coming forward is limited. On average, Richland County Ambulance has one or two residents a year who volunteer to take the class, all expenses paid. However, in order to obtain the license, trainees must complete the four month and 180 hours of in-class work as well as setting aside additional hours for studying, training, and becoming familiar with the local guidelines (Each state has different laws, and each ambulance service has different protocols which cannot specifically be taught in a class with nearly 10 services represented). After completion of the course, there is a full day of testing, as laid out and scored by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, which includes computer-based testing as well as in-person skills testing. Ask any EMT, and they’ll tell you that’s a test they never want to take again, though all recognize the value of it.

Another common struggle for volunteer services like that of Richland County is that, in comparison with full-time hired positions found throughout the region, volunteer services pay very little, therefore many volunteers choose to go where it is more financially feasible. The common misconception is that on-call EMS personnel are paid to go about their day; however, the reality is much more on edge. “You never know when the pager will go off,” noted Burch, “All of your plans have to find you just minutes from the station.” “I had the opportunity to speak with several retired EMTs,” added Spry. “They expressed that one of the biggest challenges when serving as an EMT is when it interrupts time with family, which happens often. It isn’t a 9 to 5, Monday – Friday type of schedule. EMTs are needed 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays.” Because Richland County Ambulance is an Advanced level EMS service, there also must be at least one EMT-Advanced licensed member responding on each call. To take the EMT-Advanced class, one must have a valid EMT-Basic license and complete another 150 hour course and National Registry exam. Being an Advanced service allows Richland County Ambulance to offer additional life-saving treatments that Basics are not trained in.

Though the dedication and commitment to the class is a lot to ask, each student has expressed their appreciation for the class and this opportunity to help their community. Studnicka stated that the thing she’s enjoyed most about the class is the knowledge she’s gained and “the family-like atmosphere, including our dedicated, genuine SWTC instructor, Ken Bartz.” Layer echoed the sentiment, stating that he’s enjoyed the teamwork, “taking the class with other people that help each other.” And that helpful atmosphere may just be what the doctor ordered for a course like this. “The human body is extremely complicated,” commented Burch. “It’s really good at making the best of a bad situation, and that can throw you off if you don’t have the training to spot the warning signs. If someone complains of a stomachache, the average person would probably ask if they ate something that might make them sick. But when that complaint comes to an EMT, the list of questions and things to consider is longer than I am tall!” Though most of the time, it probably was that bag of Halloween candy.

Regardless of the work these seven community members are putting in, each sees a great list of benefits from their decision to join the Richland County Ambulance. Studnicka recognized the biggest benefit was “increased medical knowledge and the chance to give patients and their families more hope to life.” Burch said, “Richland Center is filled with absolutely fantastic people; I’m honored to have the opportunity to help them.” Layer added, “Getting to help people when they’re at their worst and trying to make it better” was something he was looking forward to as an EMT.

With their class just half over, the road may still stretch ahead, but they can see the finish line pretty clearly. They would like to thank their family and friends for their patience and confidence, their employers for their understanding, the community for their expressed appreciation, and their instructor, Ken Bartz, and Richland County Ambulance Director, Darin Gudgeon, for all the encouragement and knowledge shared. Without a foundation of support and respect, becoming an EMT would be a fragile experience.