Westport 10/2

Two nights a week since mid-June, I've been heading up to the Public Safety Building in Lewis for EMS class, which is being taught by Essex County EMS coordinator Patty Bashaw. The classes run till mid-November, when, if we pass our tests, my classmates and I will become Basic Level EMT's. In addition to us beginners, there are also a number of people who are coming to selected classes as refreshers or to recertify.

It's an outstanding group, and also a relatively diverse one. My classmates in Firefighter 1, the basic firefighting course I took last summer after joining the volunteer fire department, were mostly young men in their early 20s. There were a couple of young women, and one or two veterans looking to refresh their skills and knowledge, but otherwise it was mostly younger guys. My EMS classmates are more equally balanced between men and women and on average a bit older, though we've got a good number of young men and women, too.

The classes are lively and enjoyable, which is good, because there's a lot to learn. Patty's favorite way to open the class is to drill us on the movement of blood through the heart. We learned early on to get our ventricles and atriums straight. We've learned how to open an airway and stabilize a possible spine injury. We've learned how to take vitals (blood pressure, pulse, respiration) and how to interpret what they tell us. Patty has also taught us that providing care is about more than science - it's also about offering comfort and emotional support, which can make a huge difference in helping a patient through a crisis.

Another thing that can make a huge difference, by the way, is a little timely intervention from bystanders. It takes responders at least a few minutes to get there. In the case of cardiac arrest, those minutes can be crucial. What's the solution? CPR. Everyone should know the basics. That's a subject for a future column, perhaps. But it's funny how the world of emergency response always comes back to the idea of community.

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