West Point cadets and staff take EMT-Basic course
August 21, 2009
In July, about 45 West Point cadets and at least one active duty Soldier began learning how to save lives on the battlefield beyond combat lifesaver and Soldier first responder techniques during an Emergency Medical Technician-Basic certification class.
This class was the second held this year, and the fifth to date working with the Hudson Valley Regional Emergency Medical Services Council, Master Sgt. Edwin Gargas, S-3 operations non-commissioned officer and military coordinator for the EMT-Basic training, said.
The course usually runs for about four-to-six months, but those who took the certification process at West Point completed it over 17 10-hour days. Just about every day covered a different module of EMT lifesaving skills, and nearly every day contained a practical skills evaluation.
"It's a pretty fast-paced course," Yearling David Johnston said. "It covers a lot of the same stuff you do in Army first aid and CLS, but it goes a lot deeper on some of the stuff. We also got exposed to much of the advanced life-support stuff throughout the course."
Four class lecturers and 10 laboratory instructors taught the students while another 20 instructors evaluated their skills on the final practical exam, Nelson Machado, quality improvement coordinator for the EMS Council, said.
State-certified instructors pushed the students fiercely in helping them learn the correct lifesaving process in each module.
"There's a very defined order to do things to make sure you get everything (correct)," Johnston said. "The way that they (teach us), it's (done that way) so you don't miss anything and you remember all those little details as you're practicing it. You basically know right away without having to think about it."
The students are taught seven modules that include how to check for vital signs, care for trauma patients and basic pharmacology in addition to performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Setting up the certifications at West Point was a long process for the council, as it had to coordinate with a training subcommittee to receive authorization to run the program and ask committee members to provide the trainers, which made the training a region-wide endeavor.
"It was something our office had to coordinate with other entities in order to satisfy the requirements of the military academy," Machado said, "(and) also the requirements that the New York State Department of Health has for an EMS program."
Before taking the final exam, each student spent one 12-hour shift working with a team of EMTs and paramedics in the Hudson Valley to observe and practice their knowledge during real medical emergencies.
While controlled practical exercises in the classroom have no lives at stake, the calls in the field put the students in the middle of a precarious decision-making process.
Each situation requires a different approach based on what they learned in the classroom.
For 2nd Lt. Andrew Lee, a recent West Point graduate currently working as an operations officer in the G-3 office, the fast pace of the compressed classroom instruction was the preparation he needed to achieve a level of confidence in the field.
"I think (that amount of pressure) actually got me ready for this," Lee said. "It's easy to read the book and go through the motions, but with the pressure in the classroom and labs, it helped me and (improved) my potential."
One of the calls Lee's team responded to was a vehicular accident with two trauma patients. Lee responded quickly and took their vital signs, checked their airway, breathing and circulation, and performed a rapid trauma assessment to look for life-threatening injuries.
"I took my assessment using what I learned in class and (helped) transport them rapidly to the hospital," Lee said. "I used my trauma assessment skills I learned from both the textbook and the laboratory."
Lieutenant Richard Greer, of Medic Station 5 in West Nyack, worked with many of the students on their ride-alongs, and he said that the students were of great assistance and did very well with their patient assessments and field training.
"They're very fast learners," Greer said. "They're a great asset to have with us, between the patient assessment and helping get the patients out of their homes to the ambulances, and I think they're learning a lot by having the patient contact in the field instead of just the classroom experience."
The greatest benefit from the class is the knowledge base the students gain when they become certified EMTs.
Lee, who is expecting to deploy with a Fort Bragg, N.C., unit next year, wanted to know these skills when he and his Soldiers will need them the most.
"I wanted to make sure that I was a competent leader and could take care of my troops, and didn't always (have to) rely on my medic or combat lifesaver," Lee said. "Leading by example is what I learned at West Point, and that's what I want to do."
Upon passing their exams, the students receive a CPR certification card, as well as a National Registry certificate and a New York State Department of Health certificate. Their New York state EMT certification will be valid for three years and their national certification will be valid for two years.
Gargas is looking forward to working with the council again to hold two more EMT-Basic certification classes next year.
The goal is to train more Soldiers and cadets as EMTs, Gargas said, who could potentially save lives on the battlefield.