Scenarios offer EST students real-life experiences

Before the call even comes across the radio, emergency services crews have to be prepared to gear up and go as any time spared can be the difference between life and death.

Each year, before students step out of the classroom and into their practicum, Lakeland College’s Emergency Training Centre (ETC) instructors prepare emergency services technology (EST) students by providing real-life scenarios to help put their skills and knowledge into action.

“When I got my emergency medical services certificate, I went from the classroom straight to practicum. I had little idea of what was going to happen when I got to the station,” says James McGonigal, an associate ETC instructor and volunteer firefighter in St. Paul. “By putting the students through drills, it gives them a chance to see what it is going to be like.”

Throughout the month of October, EST students were put through the daily grind of working as a first responder at a mock firehall. Whether they are responding to a standard call such as shortness of breath or a more abnormal call, including drug-induced hallucinations, students must be prepared at all times.

“This is what sets this program apart from all the others. You get the real-life experience, and they (the instructors) try to prepare you for as much as possible,” says medical stream student Heather Kula.

While no one scenario will completely prepare students for what they may see in the early stages of their career, Kula says the scenarios are beneficial to everyone because they provide more opportunities to enhance their people skills and offer more problem solving opportunities rather than hypotheticals in a classroom setting.

Having the capabilities to solve problems on the spot under intense pressure can be half the battle as a first responder.

In one of the final scenarios of the program, EST students were dispatched to a single occupant plane crash. When first on the scene, they concluded a relay pumper truck would be required to battle the blaze before they could secure entry of the aircraft and remove the occupant. However, despite a positive truck inspection that morning, the relay pumper had mechanical issues and was unable to relay water to the lead truck, thus requiring a call for further back-up.

“Being able to practice keeping a cool head and problem solving is beneficial,” says Kula. They provided water to the lead pumper using a second truck and various adapters to connect to a secondary hydrant.

“When you practice and have a storage facility just feet away, there is no real problem solving; you can quickly grab what you need. But when you are in the field, you only have what is available to you in your vehicle,” adds Mackinley Moore, a medical stream student.

Despite the mechanical failure of a pump truck, crews were successful in knocking down the fire and saving the life of the lone male pilot. And while a life was saved and no injuries reported amongst their crew, knowing how to deal with any situation thrown at them is something McGonigal hopes the students take from the experience. 

“It’s real life. Some days a truck will not work and other days you may run into a faulty hydrant or a hose might blow. Regardless of how many times you check your equipment, something can fail,” says McGonigal. “It is crucial for the students to experience this in a controlled environment.”

Following each scenario, the students and instructors go through a debriefing session to discuss the outcome.

“We’re learning so much, and every time we complete a scenario we also discuss what went well and what could be improved on,” says Moore. “One thing I have learned is to not be too hard on myself.”

The emergency services technology program is the only full-time 12-month diploma program in Canada delivering comprehensive training in fire and medical. All students receive core training in NFPA 1001 and EMR before specializing in fire or medical (EMT-A). Registration is currently open for the March 6, 2017, through Feb. 16, 2018, intake.

Photo: Emergency Services Technology students care for a patient in a mock airplane crash during their on-site practicum in October.

November 8, 2016

Last updated on