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First responders need real-world training

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First Response

There is a critical need for a program that trains a critical workforce.

The first responders program, which educates and trains the next generation of emergency medical technicians, doesn’t have the facilities to simulate real-world medical emergencies.

For instance when new students learn to do vital signs they can only practice on themselves. The rub, though, is that none of them are having a medical emergency and are unable to test their skills in a real-world environment.

"We can check each other’s blood pressure without a problem, but nice healthy patients don’t call 911," said Loren Enright, EMT instructor at Cascade. "It’s the patients who are sick. Recently, what we were able to have demonstrated to us was a simulation lab where they have these mannequins that can mimic an irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, fluid in the lungs or they have their tongues swell up."

The lab would be much like what PCC’s nursing program has at the Sylvania Campus where students can practice their nursing skills on robotic patients. For students, these labs are invaluable in getting the type of training that could save a life and make their transition into their health care jobs easier.

"A simulation lab would provide extra experience before actually going out into the field," said Alan Koenig, a student in the first responders program. "Giving the EMT or the student more experience in that aspect that is not normal in a classroom setting would be great."

The program, based at the Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth St.), teaches people how to step in and help when a situation demands immediate, on-the-scene care. They learn general bandaging and control of blood loss, CPR, airway maintenance, treatment for shock, spinal immobilization, splinting, the administration of oral glucose for diabetics, and the lifting and movement of patients.

Students practice First Response

Students practice accident-scene response

The first responder course is open to the general public, but often is used by law enforcement agencies, 911 operators, fire departments, and even businesses so that they can have a staff member on hand who is able to provide basic care in the event of an emergency.

"It teaches basic initial responses to critical, out-of-hospital situations," said Mark Hornshuh, a program specialist with the college’s Emergency Services Department. "It’s a limited scope of practice, but for the most part, the things that first responder students learn are the most immediate, critical steps that need to be taken in an emergency."

First responders would benefit from passage of the PCC bond measure (26-95), which is on the Nov. 4 ballot. The $374 million bond measure would add a simulation lab for first responder students at the Cascade Campus and add space to offer first responder training at the Willow Creek location in Washington County. In general, the Cascade Campus would benefit from bond funds in the form of adding and expanding instruction for careers in pre-kindergarten through high school education; classroom space; and child-care facility for students.

The course is now the program of choice for the Portland Fire Bureau, which, until recently, provided its own first responder training to its non-medical personnel. Graduates of the course, which follows a standardized national curriculum, receive state certification as a first responder.

"Several large companies in the area have been very appreciative of this training," said Kal Robertson, director of PCC’s Emergency Services Department, which oversees the program. "It makes people in an organization feel more secure knowing that they have someone who knows what to do in an injury situation."

But to get the most out of their training, a simulation lab would be critical to ensuring students leave PCC with real-world skills.

"And I think Portland definitely deserves a good program for emergency medical technicians," Koenig added.

For more information about the first responders program, call (503) 978-5570.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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